I got to spend a bit of time with the new Fire TV Edition televisions from Westinghouse and Element last night at CES. These are the TVs that run Fire OS and give you the full Fire TV experience out of the box without needing an external Fire TV box or Fire TV Stick. While they didn’t let me take control and have free reign of the TVs, I did get a good feel for the products so here is an overview of their features and my first impressions.
The three brands that will initially release Fire TV Edition televisions are Westinghouse, Seiki, and Element. These three brands are actually manufactured by the same company, Tongfang Global. The Westinghouse and Element TVs I saw were completely identical, apart from the brand badge. They were pre-production models, so by the time they hit store shelves they may differ more, but for now, you can consider there to really be one launch partner for the first set of Fire TV Editions televisions, which will come in 43″, 50″, 55″, and 65″ sizes. Amazon hopes to get other manufacturers to make Fire TV Edition televisions in the future.
Many people consider these TV brands to be “third tier” and low-end, but I was impressed by the overall hardware. The TVs are not going to wow anyone by how slim and sexy they are, but they have a very nice minimalistic silver design that I would be fine displaying in my living room. The bezels around the screen are nice and thin, which is what matters the most to me. The display panel itself looked crisp and vivid.
A common concern with smart TVs is underpowered hardware that results in a sluggish user experience. I’m happy to say that that is not the case here. During the limited time I had with the TVs, the interface felt snappy and on par with the Fire TV 2. I was worried the new live TV elements added to Fire OS, which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly, would bog down the interface, but I didn’t see any stuttering or long load pauses. I couldn’t get exact clock speeds, but there is a quad-core CPU, dedicated GPU, and 3GB of memory inside, which I was told will be able to run all the apps and games that the Fire TV 2 can run.
The new elements added to Fire OS to make it work as a complete TV interface are baked into the core of the OS and not just slapped on top as an afterthought. This makes it a very nice cohesive experience across the entire interface. You can easily jump between streaming Amazon content, apps like Netflix, over-the-air channels, and even external inputs like a Blu-ray player, all seamlessly from the home screen.
To access live OTA channels coming from the built-in tuner, there is a new “ON NOW” row just past the “RECENT” and “YOUR APPS & GAMES” rows on the home screen. This new row displays an icon for each channel that shows what is currently airing on the channel. There is a slim red bar at the bottom of each icon that is a live indicator of how far along that particular show or movie is in its broadcast, so with a glance, you can easily tell if something just started or is about to end.
While scrolling through the channel icons on the home screen, if you pause on a channel for a second, a live preview of the channel appears in the upper right corner of the Fire TV interface where you normally have static images. This was a very nice touch that shows how well the tuner capabilities are integrated into Fire OS. I was expecting these live channel previews to bog down the interface, but they didn’t seem to affect things and you could flip through without any stutter.
At any point you can press the menu button to see a list of options, among which is the channel guide. The channel guide is what you’d expect and simply lists the antenna channels you have access to and what is on each channel. You’ll get 2 weeks worth of programming info available, along with images and descriptions of the various shows. A nice touch is a shrunken live display, in the lower right corner of the channel guide, that shows a live view of the last channel you were watching.
While viewing a live OTA channel, you can press the pause button to pause what you’re watching if you need to step away for a bit. I couldn’t find out how long you could leave something paused, but was told it’s probably dependent on how much free internal storage you have available. While you can pause live TV, there is no DVR option to record and save programming. Pressing the down button while watching a channel will bring up a mini channel guide to see what is on next or what is playing on other channels.
The first item in the settings area is a new option to access the TV’s inputs. You’ll be able to ask Alexa to change inputs for you, based on the input label. I couldn’t get clarification on wether or not you could customize the labels, or if they were auto-detected from the connected device. When you change inputs, an icon for that input is added to the “RECENT” section of the home screen, making it very easy to hop between Fire OS and your other devices.
Overall I was very impressed with the integration of traditional TV features, like tuner channels, inputs, and settings, with the Fire TV interface. Amazon could have easily just created a standalone “Channels” app, like what Google did with Android TV, and called it a day. Instead, they really thought about the best ways to blend streaming content, apps, antenna channels, and even external input devices together into a single coherent interface. Fire TV Edition televisions are the most complete and frictionless way to bring together all the different methods of consuming content that I’ve seen to date.
inb4 can we slideload Kodi.
thanks for the sneak peak. perfect timing for you to be there.
Heck, if they left me alone with the remote I would have tried right then and there. Probably would have tried to root it too. :-P
People are going to complain about these brands, but truth is there are only 3-4 companies producing screens for all these various brands. While the bezel, software, etc. may be different, the off brands often have the same screens as LGs, Vizios, etc…
The panels are often from a larger company but generally a couple of generations old, also the control board/power supply is going to be different which is what fails the most on most modern TVs, it’s rare to have a panel failure outside of physical damage. Most of the complaints I have seen aren’t around PQ as much as crappy components that complement that panel. It’s also harder to get replacement parts for these TV’s a couple years down the line.
While I can understand having a market for “all in one” TV’s I’d much prefer having a stand alone box for content, and have the TV for just providing a good picture.I can imagine FW update glitches killing the TV OS, and then you are stuck without a TV to watch anything on, versus just plugging in another source & continuing on.
But I do see the appeal for having one less box on the shelf.
I agree. Don’t get me wrong, the implementation on these TV’s looks great. But having a stand alone box means you have the freedom to take the box anywhere you go as long as you have internet access.
And that would still be an option. The TV does have 3 or 4 HDMI inputs.
I see maybe a three year support window until Amazon decided to end software support (like most manufacturers). But overall these TVs will sell as well as the Roku TVs but Prime membership will increase as an result. I wonder if Prime members will be able to buy these first or through the normal supply channels?
They sound awesome to me, I have 2 Element TVs one for 5+ years and never a problem. I would imagine these will be sold in the same manner as their line of ‘Prime Exclusive Phones’.
Really interested. One of these may be my next tv to replace my current 50 inch Samsung plasma ($400, 3 yrs old). I too want to know if you can Sideload Kodi. Amazon really thought out the interface. I love the intergration. Excited!
Sadly I don’t the brands in the UK so unless I missed something, not going to be the UK anytime soon :( then again…I prefer boxes rather than integrated tv’s
Seiko TVs are available in the UK.
Any news on a updated Fire TV box version (3rd gen)? I’m buying a second gen FTV for my 4k tv, but I want to know if its worth waiting to a updated model.
No kidding. I’ve been holding out and waiting to see about HDR.
What is odd about this article is that Elias makes no mention if any of these models are 4K capable. Perhaps that is for another upcoming article but if their isn’t a 4K model, that’s a huge downer. Especially since the Fire TV 2 is capable of it.
all the new sets from all 3 brands are 4K
Thanks for the info. Do you know if they are HDR capable as well?
I would guess they will have some form of hdr “HDR processing” but they may only have 8 bit panels with lower color gamut and brightness. That’s what I’ve noticed all the lower priced tvs /lower name brands are doing…You usually have to spend much more for Samsung, Sony, LG, & Vizio for true 10bit panel HDR 4k HDTVs.
Yeah, this article started as just a first impressions, but then grew to include an overview. I didn’t want to also stuff specs in, so I made a separate post about that.
What is the remote like? RF or IR? Anything like the Fire TV remote?
The biggest benefit to me here is not needing some kludgey universal remote (with superfluous buttons), in order to avoid two remotes – one for the Fire TV and separate remote for the TV volume.
See my separate article about the remote. It’s either Wifi-Direct or Bluetooth. Not IR or RF. My money is on Bluetooth, but it’s not the final design, so it will likely change. I think the ones they had there were made by Amazon, whereas the ones that ship will likely be made by the TV manufacturers.
Where are the wifi antennas located on these TV’s? Are they front facing? How is the heat dissipation? With the addition of the streaming components inside the chassis do these TV’s get hotter? Do the require cpu fans?
The people there didn’t have answers to these kinds of technical questions. Mostly marketing and PR people. There were a few engineers from Amazon, but they only worked on the software, so they didn’t know anything about the hardware.
Wow! These are way better integrated than I had 1st imagined! i bought my son a Seiki TV set for his 21st b-day. The TV is working quite impressively today. He will be 28 in a couple of weeks.
One brand I’d LOVE to see Amazon get hooked up with though, is Toshiba.
Nice pics, Elias! That was a good first impression. Way different than what I had imagined (thinking crappy TVs you can buy for a song with Roku built-in.)
Im interested. Been waiting for an excuse to go to 4k but still rocking the gen 1 aftv…this might be the way I go.
Let’s all agree: unless you live for Prime, the latest OS update completely pisses over the UI experience with obnoxious ads. For the first time, I’m actively yearning to root this mofo and strip out all the dross.
While we’re at it: about time Amazon allowed us to open up the USB port to NTSC storage. Even nicer if it supplied enough power for a portable drive, but guess that’s not a software fix.
I mean fancy buying a TV and having half the screen hijacked by third party promos.