Amazon’s all-singing, all-dancing Fire TV Cube is coming to the UK for the first time in the form of a new, faster, second-gen device and quite frankly, it does everything. It’s a Fire TV streaming box, Echo smart speaker and universal remote rolled into one, though there is still work to do when it comes to Amazon’s reliance on voice and streaming service support.
The £110 Fire TV Cube was announced alongside 20 Fire TV products at a former dairy factory in Berlin – it’s up for pre-order now with shipping set for October 10. We’ve been impressed with the performance of Amazon’s 4K Fire TV sticks, and although this is twice the price, as usual it’s hard to argue with the value you’re getting here.
The Fire TV Cube supports 4K TV and movies at 60fps with both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ on the HDR front and Dolby Atmos support for audio. The main spec upgrade on the initial US-only Fire TV Cube is a hexa-core processor which Amazon says is more than twice as powerful and makes for a faster voice and viewing experience. Its voice assistant Alexa is built in with far-field mics so you can talk to it from the sofa, and an Alexa Voice Remote accessory bundled in too. Incidentally, Amazon says Fire TV Cube owners in the US use voice more than eight times more than users of other Fire TV devices.
It can also act as a voice-based universal remote with HDMI CEC and multi-directional infrared tech meaning that you can hook the Fire TV Cube up to set-top boxes and soundbars to control everything via Alexa. In demos, Amazon showed off how you can use an Alexa Routine like “Alexa, good night” to switch everything off or “Alexa, play The Boys“, for example, to jump straight to a specific show or category when the TV is powered off.
As for streaming services, you get access to Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, All4, ITV Hub, Curzon Home Cinema plus the third-party paid-for subscriptions available within Prime Video such as Mubi and BFI Player.
Alongside the Fire TV Cube, Amazon announced that Fire TV edition TVs – actual TVs – are coming to the UK with JVC models at 40in, 49in and 55in starting at £349. The three TVs will come with 4K panels, HDR10, Dolby Vision and voice via the Alexa Voice Remote, i.e. not far-field mics as per the lovely looking €1,299 (£1164) OLED Fire TV edition from Grundig for Germany and Austria.
We also got to see – but not hear – the first Fire TV edition soundbar. The Nebula soundbar is a partnership with Chinese company Anker, which is a smart move on Amazon’s part. (An Amazon rep told us that we’d be surprised how much Anker tops Amazon’s sales charts; we were not surprised). The Alexa-powered soundbar is up for pre-order today for £180, shipping on 21 November.
This onslaught of new devices puts Amazon in a strong commercial position, as does its advantage as the world’s largest retailer: Fire TV products were “in the top two” deals in the UK, US and Germany during its Prime Day sale in July, and Amazon has now passed 37 million active Fire TV users.
There are signs that Amazon still has its work cut out, though. The Fire TV Cube is being positioned as both an entertainment and smart-home hub, so it seems odd that Amazon hasn’t built an Alexa/Echo dashboard into the Fire TV interface yet.
The reason for this omission is no doubt to ensure every command is routed through Alexa voice controls, and an Amazon rep did note that you can view all your devices and settings in the Alexa mobile app. But with the ability to pull up Echo Show-style screens such as the weather on your TV and view a Ring video doorbell feed, for instance, it feels like Amazon is missing a trick here.
Samsung is doing something similar with SmartThings on its QLED Smart TVs, and the Fire TV Cube is essentially an Echo connected to the biggest screen in the house. Even for users who are on board with Alexa in their homes, sometimes voice just isn’t the control that suits every single interaction and request.
The second question is around content. On stage, head of Fire TV Marc Whitten said that the questions around watching TV “used to be ‘how do I find this one show?’ and ‘can I follow my favourite sports team?’ – the answers are now yes and yes. Now it’s ‘how can I make my TV smarter?’ and ‘how can my TV do more?’” That’s a neat argument to make for some of the features Amazon is focusing on, but the fact remains that the ‘how do I find this one show?’ question isn’t going away any time soon.
During Samsung’s IFA press conference, European product director Nathan Sheffield pointed out that Samsung is bringing Apple TV+ to its Smart TVs, with integration with search, Samsung’s smart guide and its voice assistant Bixby. And in August, Disney released a list of platforms and devices for Disney Plus with Amazon’s Fire TV family missing; there was also no mention of Disney Plus on stage or on screen at the Fire TV event.
That’s not to say people won’t double up and buy multiple streaming sticks and boxes to fill the gaps in their smart TV’s offering, as households pay for more than one streaming service. But if Amazon wants Fire TV edition TVs and the Fire TV Cube to succeed, it would pay to learn from its now resolved spat with Google over support for YouTube and Prime Video.
As for Amazon’s own line-up of original shows and exclusive sports streaming, it’s certainly more comprehensive than what we’ve seen from Apple TV+ so far, but it’s still a way off Netflix and Disney Plus. Whitten namechecked The Boys as a recent hit and The Power and James May: Our Man In Japan as upcoming UK shows. The big win, though, was its announcement of Eurosport Player on Fire TV, which will see it stream the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 4K.
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read more at https://www.wired.co.uk/ by Sophie Charara