Amazon Adds Fire TV Sticks, Echo Speakers, Home Drone
Amazon unveiled Thursday its latest generation of Fire TV media streamers, new Alexa capabilities and a surprise cloud-based video gaming platform called Luna as part of its 2020 product lineup.
The extensive introduction, made prior to the new Prime Day coming Oct. 13th and in time for the holidays, also included a bundle with new and improved ball-shaped Echo smart speakers, as well as new Ring smart home and smart-car devices including a home-camera drone, and a Ring car alarm and car camera.
Some of the standouts of the announcements included the addition of new Alexa functionality including such baby sitting skills as reading books to children or monitoring for crying babies.
With security becoming an issue of greater importance, Amazon announced a “Guard Plus” Alexa feature that will listen for the sounds of suspicious activity in a home when the residents are away to sound alarms (including the sound of a barking dog) while alerting the homeowners to a potential intrusion.
For the privacy conscious, the company said it has also upgraded Alexa’s ability to delete any audible recordings the devices may collect and store, ostensibly for improved service benefits.
New Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite
Meanwhile, the new Fire TV Stick (available starting next week at $40) is a Full HD HDMI streaming adapter with support for HDR and Dolby Atmos 3D audio surround sound. The scaled down Fire TV Stick Lite ($30) will not offer Dolby Atmos.
Both the upgraded Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite come with built-in Alexa remotes and stream up to 1080/60p resolution video along with support for the HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG high dynamic range profiles. Strangely, they don’t support full 4K or Dolby Vision, as some of the company’s existing Fire TV adapters do, and that’s despite the fact that Amazon is using a more powerful 1.7 GHz quad-core processor.
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Including HDR support along with Full HD and not 4K, as is traditionally the case, could be following a trend among television broadcasters that have shown a reluctance spend extra resources and available bandwidth to support higher resolution video levels that they claim most viewers don’t really see. More than a few of these professionals long have spoken to the potential benefits of HDR and wide color gamuts, while downplaying the visual improvements of 4K resolution.
We are starting to see Full HD broadcasts with HDR support coming in some OTA broadcast markets as more stations transition to the ATSC 3.0 platform. In time, some of that programming is likely to be streamed through broadcasters’ premium apps as well as the apps of some of their local affiliate stations.
Meanwhile, Amazon already offers Fire TV Stick 4K for owners of 4K televisions who require that.
The Fire TV Stick Lite is a stripped down version to help someone who doesn’t care about the wider sound stage of Dolby Atmos save $10.
Amazon revealed that it is preparing to deliver a forthcoming new user interface for the Fire TV platform that will rollout via an update on select Fire TV devices starting with the new Fire TV sticks.
Working in tandem with Alexa voice control, this is said to provide easier content navigation and discovery and will introduce new profiles supporting up to six users per home to provide individualized recommendations drawing on each user’s viewing patterns.
Among other things, users will be able to use their voices to switch between viewer profiles and Live TV channel menus.
Amazon also introduced a new subscription-based cloud-gaming service called Luna, offering users an alternative to similar services like Stadia. The platform can be accessed by Fire TV devices as well as computers and mobile devices, and will run $5.99 a month.
Luna will have an early access launch for most parts of the country beginning on Thursday. Early users will find a library of more than 50 games to start, and will be able to purchase a custom controller for $50 for enhanced game play.
In one of the cooler announcements, Amazon said it is offering a $249 flying drone security camera called “Always Home Cam” that will automatically patrol predetermined areas inside the home. The camera will power up automatically only when operating and is intended for users who would rather not place always-on security cameras all around their house.
Also added by Amazon’s Ring unit was a new car camera and car alarm equipped with sensors to detect possible break-ins. The $199.99 car alarm/camera system can sync with a Ring security system and can be set to trigger cameras and sirens when something is detected. Recorded video will be encrypted and can be triggered by Alexa voice control when a user says, for example, “Alexa, I’m being pulled over.”
Amazon also introduced a new lineup of Echo smart speakers that now offer a low-power mode to save energy and ball-shaped designs. The lineup includes smaller Echo Dot speaker balls including a model incorporating an LED digital clock (coming Oct. 22nd for $60) and a new kids’ Echo Dot offered in a tiger or panda design (for $60 each, arriving Oct. 22nd and Dec. 9th, respectively). The new flagship Echo model will run $100 and features improved premium sound from its upward-firing woofer and dual front-firing tweeters.