Earlier this week, Hisense announced its first Fire TV Smart TV. The new 4K TV has an impressive list of features, like Dolby Vision HDR support, a high peak brightness, a Quantum Dot screen, Full-Array Local Dimming, a variable refresh rate, and more. On paper, it’s quite possibly the best Fire TV Smart TV as far as picture quality goes. While the TV’s specs are great, they have nothing to do with what makes the Hisense Fire TV Smart TV a huge leap forward for Fire TV and the most important TV in Amazon’s Fire TV lineup.
Amazon started its smart TV endeavor in 2017 with the announcement of the first “Fire TV Edition” televisions. Things got off to a rocky start since it was supposed to include three brands: Element, Westinghouse, and Seiki. Despite being shown off at CES in person, the Seiki TVs were canceled and the only place I ever saw the Westinghouse TVs being sold was during a very brief period on QVC. Essentially down to just one brand, the Element TVs were widely available and advertised on Amazon.com, but they were plagued with shipping issues that resulted in many TVs arriving damaged.
The next year brought the announcement of a multi-year partnership with Best Buy to both make and sell Fire TV Smart TVs. Gone were the four Element TV models and in their place were ten new Fire TV Smart TV models from Insignia, Best Buy’s house brand, and Toshiba. Since then the Fire TV Smart TV lineup in the US has grown to now include more TV lines from Insignia and Toshiba that span both higher-end and lower-end models, as well as additional brands like Pioneer and Amazon’s own TVs.
The Fire TV Smart TV lineup has expanded quite a bit over the years, now to over 100 models internationally, but the one constant in the US has been Best Buy’s involvement. All Fire TV Smart TVs in the US are linked to Best Buy in one way or another. Even Amazon’s own Amazon-built TVs are also sold at Best Buy. The partnership runs so deep that you can order a Fire TV Smart TV on Amazon.com and pick it up at Best Buy, which I don’t believe is possible with any other product or retailer.
The new Hisense TV announced this week is the first Fire TV Smart TV since the original in 2017 to be released without Best Buy’s involvement. All Fire TV Smart TVs between 2018 and the release of the Hisense TV have been very closely related, despite having multiple brand names. For those of you familiar with the car market, the Fire TV Smart TV lineup was more like choosing between a vehicle from Chevy and GMC, than choosing between a vehicle from Chevy and Ford. The Hisense Fire TV Smart TV, having no involvement with Best Buy that I’m aware of, is the first real expansion of the Fire TV Smart TV lineup in the US. Hisense being one of the top five TV manufacturers in the world makes the expansion even more significant.
The other reason why the Hisense TV is so important involves Google and Android Smart TVs. Google has a clause in its contract with Android device manufacturers that prevent them from using Google services, like the Google Play Store, on any of their products if the manufacturer sells products running a forked version of Android, like Fire OS which runs on Fire TV Smart TVs. While this contract stipulation originally stems from Android smartphone manufacturing, Google has, allegedly, been using it against smart TV manufacturers to prevent them from making both Android TV and Fire TV Smart TVs. During my time as a Fire TV product manager for Amazon, I witnessed firsthand a manufacturer expressing serious concern for Google’s retaliation to them making a Fire TV product.
Hisense is a major producer of Android TV Smart TVs, with over half of the 83 TVs currently listed on its website running Android TV. As 9to5Google has also pointed out, Hisense now making a Fire TV Smart TV alongside its Android TV Smart TVs could mean that Google’s strong-arming tactics are over. It’s highly doubtful that Hisense has decided to switch from Android TV to Fire TV for all of its future smart TVs, since there are several future Hisense Android TV Smart TVs that have been announced but have not been released yet. What is more likely is that recent regulatory pressure against Google’s anticompetitive practices has shifted the landscape for manufacturers wanting to make both Android TV and Fire TV Smart TVs. It certainly helps that Hisense, as a major TV manufacturer, has the leverage to stand its ground against any retaliation from Google.
With Hisense crossing the proverbial line in the sand, it could open the door for other TV manufacturers, that are already making Android TV Smart TVs, to expand their lineup with Fire TV variants. TCL is a prime example, as it is the unverified but highly suspected manufacturer of the Amazon-branded Fire TV Smart TVs. This will hopefully be the start of a truly even TV landscape where most Android TV Smart TVs have an equivalent Fire TV version, and vice versa. If that comes to be, Hisense’s first Fire TV Smart TV will have been the tipping point that made it all possible, making it the most important TV in Amazon’s Fire TV lineup.