Like Roku before it, Amazon is working with TV makers to release smart televisions with the company’s own software filling in as the main operating system. Today we’re getting a much better idea of what that looks like with the inexpensive Element Amazon Fire TV Edition 4K TV lineup. These TVs will also be sold under the Westinghouse brand (instead of Element) depending on market. They’re available to preorder at Amazon for prices ranging from $449 (43-inch model) to only $899 for a 65-inch display. You’ll be able to find them at stores sometime next month.
Unlike the TCL sets we recently saw, these TVs don’t support Dolby Vision or HDR. They’re just regular old 4K screens that run Amazon’s Fire TV software. I can’t speak for the display quality, as I only spent a few minutes looking at the Element and Westinghouse Fire TV Editions in a brightly lit conference room. Their prices and third-tier brands suggest that they won’t compete with today’s top UHD TVs, but they might be plenty good enough for some consumers. And the software side of things is really promising.
An included voice remote supports both voice search and Alexa, so you can control your smart lights or check the weather using Amazon’s assistant. As is the case with Amazon’s Fire TV streaming devices, Alexa will show you many results visually instead of just speaking them back. You’ve got to use the voice remote, however, as the TV won’t just be listening for “Alexa” constantly. (And maybe mics in TVs are a bad idea.)
Back in December, Amazon overhauled its Fire TV software with a new look that’s far superior to the old version. Now it’s fast, easy to understand, and looks a little more modern than Roku’s OS, which also hangs its hat on simplicity. You can get a good sense of the software from each company in the video below.
But remember that this is a little different than just the Fire TV Stick running Fire TV software; this is a TV using Fire TV as its core operating system. So it does more than just stream. If you plug in an antenna, the TVs will automatically download local listings with Gracenote and you’ll see nice show artwork as you channel surf between networks. There’s a straightforward on-screen programming guide with channel names instead of numbers, and TV channels get mixed into your “Recents” area of the Fire TV software, letting you quickly hop between Netflix and a sports game that might be airing on CBS or Fox.
Since the TV comes with 16GB of internal storage, you can also pause and rewind live TV from your antenna. That’s a feature that Roku TVs only added in November, so you can see just how aggressively and quickly Amazon is catching up. And those same voice controls on the remote also let you switch inputs, adjust volume, and other critical TV functions. (You can just say “Go to NBC” instead of a channel number to switch live TV channels, also.) My only gripe with the remote is there’s no headphone port. I love that private listening feature on Roku, but you’ve still got the option to use Bluetooth headphones.