Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Amazon Fire TV UHD/4K Player Coming October 5

The wait for an affordable Ultra HD over-the-top streaming solution is over. Amazon’s new Fire TV set-top box will ship October 5 and offers support for UHD/4K streaming through Amazon Prime Instant Video, Amazon Video, and Netflix. The new Fire TV beats Apple TV and Roku to the UHD/4K punch at the very approachable price point of $100.
Interestingly, in its promotional material, Amazon chose to highlight the new Fire TV’s enhanced 1080p streaming capabilities. The company says “Watch high-definition 1080p streams on Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu and more, even without a 4K TV.” It’s a nonsensical statement—clearly 1080p content works with 1080p TVs. Nevertheless, I understand what Amazon is trying to communicate: The new Fire TV supports HEVC (h.265) compression for 1080p streams, not just UHD/4K.
Because HEVC can deliver similar image quality to AVC (h.264) using roughly half the bandwidth, it makes 1080p streaming viable for viewers with limited Internet bandwidth. Furthermore, the Fire TV supports 60p frame rates in 1080p—preferable for viewing sports as well as for playing video games. The Fire TV further optimizes streaming performance by including dual-band, dual-antenna 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
A view of the rear of the new Amazon Fire TV UHD/4K set-top box.
Of course, the Fire TV also supports true UHD/4K streams, up to 2160/30p. There’s no word if the Fire TV will support HDR content.
Audio format support is extensive. The Fire TV handles AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis, and Dolby Atmos.
The new Fire TV will ship with 8GB of built-in memory, which is less than the new HD-only Apple TV that offers 32 GB and 64 GB options. However, unlike Apple’s box, the Fire TV accepts removable storage in the form of MicroSD cards, giving it a potential maximum capacity of 136 GB.
Like the previous iteration of the Fire TV, the new model supports gaming and offers an optional controller. Most games will also support third-party Bluetooth controllers. The main difference between this launch and the original Fire TV launch is the game catalog is much larger—it grew to more than 800 titles. Amazon claims console-level gaming performance thanks to a 2GHz quad-core processor and a dedicated GPU with 2GB of video memory.
An optional controller is available for playing the Fire TV’s catalog of over 800 games.
Amazon enhanced the voice recognition capabilities of the new Fire TV with Alexa, a virtual assistant, similar to the new Apple TV’s Siri. The Fire TV remote includes a microphone for use with its enhanced speech recognition capabilities.
The new Fire TV surely piqued my interest with its promise of improved 1080p streaming as well as access to UHD/4K content. I already pre-ordered it, and plan to start a review the moment it arrives on October 5th. Are you planning to get the new Amazon Fire TV?