Amazon Beats Apple, Roku, Google with 4K, HDR-Ready Net-Top Box

-Amazon Ups the Ante for SVoD Competitors
-Apple’s 4 Gen Apple TV Looks Even More Lackluster

As covered in previous reports (such as this from July), 4K is well on its way here.

Between the mass-market priced 4K TV sets, the growing fleet of media devices that support 4K resolution – including the latest iPhones from Apple – and the daily growing libraries of 4K content from OTT services, it’s clear 4K video is the future – and is here now.

Here’s another major consumer electronics maker throwing its weight behind 4K: Amazon has released a new version of its Fire TV net-top box (NTB) that supports streaming 4K video.

 

Amazon Fire TV 4K

Bandwidth alert! Amazon’s 4K Fire TV hits the market

 

Amazon has upped the ante in the battle for living room dominance, both in terms of hardware and service.

The new NTB offers a slate of new features that includes support for 4K video, and the new box gives streamers one more reason to choose Amazon over Netflix or Hulu when looking for something to watch.

The 4K Fire TV box is priced at $99 and will ship in October. It’s also releasing a new version of its dongle NTB, called the Fire TV stick, for $49. It won’t support 4K video but it will now have voice navigation via a new remote, which the earlier iteration did not support.

The NTB has a new quad-core processor from MediaTek, which makes it 75% more powerful than the first generation device, and the new box supports HEVC encoding, which reduces the amount of bandwidth needed to stream both 4K and HD video. It also has a microSD card slot for up to 128GB of personal media storage, and the latest Wi-Fi with 2X2 802.11ac MIMO support.

Amazon Fire TV system now supports some 3,000 video and gaming apps.

The new Fire TV also comes with voice navigation via Alexa, Amazon’s answer to Siri. Like Siri, Alexa offers navigation and general information such as weather reports, sports scores and the like.

Amazon has also released a new gaming controller for the NTB that has a 32GB microSD card slot, and it’s offering a gaming bundle for $139 that includes the new controller and a few games.

 

The Best Feature: 4K Video Streaming

In conjunction no doubt with the release of its new box, Amazon recently released a massive update its library of UHD content, and it also supports 4K streaming via Netflix’s own, daily growing 4K library. Neither Ultraflix, the 4K-only SVoD service, or M-Go, the transactional OTT movie service that offers 4K video, is currently available on Fire TV.

Amazon is also a big supporter of high dynamic range (HDR), the new color technology that is said to drastically improve picture quality, and when coupled with 4K resolution delivers a jaw-dropping image. Film studios, the main proponents of the technology, have just barely begun to release titles with HDR, and Amazon has released some of its original series with HDR, too.

TV sets that support HDR are even rarer. Sony recently announced that its newest line of 4K TV sets will support HDR via a software update, and will in fact be sold with a promotion for Amazon Prime. LG also sells 4K TV sets that are able to support HDR.

Amazon isn’t the first to launch a 4K streaming media player, but its Fire TV will likely be more popular and ultimately more mainstream than Nvidia’s Shield gaming console. Nvidia Shield is first and foremost a gaming console with video streaming apps, while Amazon’s Fire TV is first and foremost a video player with gaming features, and ultimately addresses a much wider segment of consumers.

Of course, viewers will need to have a 4K TV set in order to watch 4K titles via the Fire TV box. Amazon says a broadband connection of 15 Mbps or higher is needed to stream 4K video at full resolution.

 

Does a 4K TV Set Need a NTB?

Amazon’s release put to shame Apple’s earlier unveiling of its latest net-top box, the Apple TV 4, which has been highly anticipated over the last three years, and which quickly disappointed with its limited feature upgrades and conspicuous lack of 4K support.

The benefits of a 4K net-top box are still a bit murky, and the proposition revives the debate about the role of the “smarts” in smart TV. As all 4K TV sets are smart TV sets, it’s unclear what, beyond interface, a 4K NTB can offer the viewer. This is especially true now, as the number of OTT services offering 4K content are limited to a handful. The two top providers of 4K content right now are Netflix and Amazon – both of which have apps available on most if not all 4K TV sets.

But as more OTT services begin offering titles in 4K resolution, and they will, the need for a better interface to navigate through the apps on the TV set becomes obvious – which is exactly why Apple’s lack of 4K support is so short-sighted. The demand for 4K support across media devices is growing quickly, just as the average price of 4K TV sets has dropped quickly. Apple knows this, and that’s why Apple’s latest iPhones support 4K video recording.

Amazon has asserted itself as the preeminent living room…

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