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Amazon's answer to Apple TV: a Fire TV box with Alexa and 4K video support

Amazon's answer to Apple TV: a Fire TV box with Alexa and 4K video support


'Alexa, show me content'

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Last week Apple sucked up most of the air in the tech press with its newest gadgets, which included a long-awaited, new Apple TV. This week, Amazon has some TV box news of its own.

Read next: The Amazon Fire TV 2 review.

The e-commerce giant just announced a variety of updates to its Fire TV product line. The newest Fire TV set-top box, a flat, plastic box that plugs into your TV and offers a variety of internet video content, now supports 4K Ultra HD video, a claim that Apple can't make with its own set-top box. (You'll have to be watching 4K content, on a 4K TV, to really reap the benefits of this, but at least the option is there.)

Amazon has also brought "Alexa," the popular cloud-based assistant found in the enigmatic Echo speaker, to the Fire TV through its voice-enabled remote control. Amazon previously supported voice search in its Fire TV remotes, but it didn't include Alexa.

Alexa can queue up music through the TV, and in the future, will power simple searches — "Alexa, play episode three of 'Transparent'". Eventually, she'll let you reorder items through your TV set. But Alexa on Fire TV won't do everything she does on the Echo speaker, like set timers or alarms.

Fire TV stick

There are some notable performance enhancements to the box as well. It has a 64-bit quad-core MediaTek processor and a GPU that's twice as fast as the first-generation box. It supports 802.11 AC Wi-Fi with MIMO, which is supposed to offer faster, more reliable Wi-Fi video streaming. And the new remote, which is aesthetically almost identical to last year's, offers 20 percent lower latency than the last remote, something that's key for voice searches.

This new box costs $99.99. That includes the new voice-controlled, Alexa-take-over-my-entire-living-room remote, and is less than the announced price of the new Apple TV. It's more expensive, however, than Chromecast, Roku 3, and Amazon's own streaming media stick.

Oh, right, the Fire TV stick! That's not getting an "update," per se — the hardware is exactly the same. But Amazon is updating the software on the stick and throwing the new remote in for a $50 bundle, compared with $40 for the same stick with a non-voice-enabled remote.

Both the box and the stick run on Fire OS, a forked version of Android. The box has 8 gigabytes of internal storage, but is expandable up to 128 gigabytes through a microSD slot.

Finally, Amazon is taking casual gamers seriously: the company is also putting out a gaming-specific edition of the new box, which comes with a redesigned gaming controller, a 32-gigabyte microSD card, and two free game downloads, for $140. All of these open up for preorder today and will ship in October.

Amazon still won't share exactly how many Fire TV units it has sold

A lot of this may seem like a clever repackaging of products and obvious hardware updates — and to some extent, that's what it is. But Amazon has also been pretty vocal in recent weeks about what it says is the "largest and fastest-growing selection of content," which is what matters most to many consumers, rather than voice assistants and processors. Stuff like Netflix, Showtime, WatchESPN, HBO Go, Hulu, Vevo, and of course, Amazon's own original content, can be streamed on the boxes, and it's adding a bunch more by year-end.

Amazon also says that its Fire TV devices were the best selling media-streaming devices in the US over the summer, a claim that's somewhat difficult to corroborate due to the fact that the famously secretive company doesn't share info on its unit sales. One thing's certain: This holiday video-streaming season just got a lot more interesting.

Photography by Vjeran Pavic