Element has launched a new line of 4K television called Fire TV Edition which runs on Amazon’s Fire TV software stack. It is essentially integrating an “Amazon Fire TV Box” into televisions, and although this new line of product is the first to be available, we should expect more TV OEMs to follow. We had some hands-on time with it, and it is very nice, here’s why.
Element is Amazon’s first partner in this foray into television integration, and it is fair to call this a success. Let’s define the metrics for success: the Amazon Fire TV software is supposed to offer two things: first, a better user interface for live TV and online content. Secondly, it brings access to the Amazon media ecosystem, along with key competitors such as Hulu and Netflix, just to cite the obvious. Dozens more are available via apps.
A powerful user interface for both live and online content
From what I have experienced, the Amazon Fire TV software clearly makes the general TV user interface (UI) better. Element’s leadership is very lucid about the state of TV software, and they do know that although not everyone benefits equally from a premium experience such as Fire TV, Amazon’s software is a sharp improvement over most television default interface, including theirs.
The Element Fire TV Edition ships with the latest Amazon UI, and should benefit from similarly healthy release cycles, just like the Amazon set-top boxes. That is according to representatives of both companies.
For anyone familiar with the Fire TV experience, the experience is nearly identical to the set-top boxes, except that Live Channels now appear as a media that users can watch. The TV integration is well done: live TV Shows appear as any other content available. It is also possible to see what’s coming next for each channel and this is quite good in the context of live television.
Amazon also made it possible to view channels through a TV guide for those who prefer a classic view. Fortunately, it is possible to improve the guide by filtering unwanted channels to speed things up. The channels listings are downloaded based on your Zip Code.
The TV comes with 16GB of flash storage, which allows for Live TV features such as Pausing. With that, also comes the ability to go forward/backward, whether it is to replay something you did not understand or maybe skip advertising. This is not a DVR functionality, but it is an upgrade from a plain vanilla live TV user experience.
Of course, Amazon Alexa and voice searches are available via the remote’s microphone, which is almost identical to the original Fire TV ones. As such, it is possible to do anything that an Amazon Echo does, such as controlling lights, and smart homes features. The only difference is that the TV is not constantly listening to you.
Amazon content access
As Amazon’s clout in the online video (and music) space continues to increase, the company has more and more leverage when it comes to attracting or retaining users. That is particularly true for those who use the Amazon Prime delivery service – which also offers enormous benefits in terms of video and music access with the company.
For example, when we tested Android TV devices, it was bothersome to be cut from Amazon Prime. Fortunately, some players like NVIDIA’s SHIELD TV box have managed to cut a deal directly with Amazon to provide an access. However, that remains a deal limited to NVIDIA and not available to other Android TV devices, at least, not for now.
At the same time, other services such as Netflix, Hulu and more are completely accessible to Amazon users. Note that all of these services do produce their own shows. Only Apple and Google Play movie/video services are off-limits (youtube/Red is available), but it is not a big deal since the buy/rent video offerings are mostly similar.
Television set: designed to be affordable
This Element Fire TV Edition line of product has been designed to bring affordable 4K televisions (43, 50, 55, 65 inches models), so there are no high-end features such as HDR or OLED. However, the quality seemed very decent, and it is an attractive quality/price offering. It is also possible to connect Bluetooth headphones, which is a surprisingly rare option on televisions, despite the obvious advantages of using BT wireless headphones and not those lame RF/IR ones.
The LCD panel has a 3840×2160 resolution, with a refresh rate of 120/60HZ. The main processor is a quad-core T1-938 designed by a subsidiary of MediaTek which specializes in TV computing platforms. It is said to be one of the better options for TV processors, but it is probably not so impressive (in raw performance) if you come from the smartphone world. It has 3GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash storage. The video and networking hardware is powerful enough to stream in 4K resolution at 60 FPS.
The TV has four HDMI ports (at least one with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2), analog A/V inputs, optical audio out, a Gb Ethernet port, one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, one VGA input, one 3.5mm input and one RCA input.
You do not have to use the Gb Ethernet port since there’s also a WIFI connectivity option (AC, MIMO, Dual-band, Dual-antenna). I like the Ethernet option if available because I do not need to setup a password, and connectivity can be more stable. For device connectivity, there’s Bluetooth 4.1+LE with specific options for headphones/headsets (HFP, A2DP, HID, SSP).