Amazon Is Now Making Its Own Fire TVs

The new 4-Series and Omni Series TVs will be available exclusively at Amazon and Best Buy

Amazon TV Photo: Amazon

We’ve been testing Amazon Fire TVs, from brands such as Insignia and Toshiba, for several years, and they’ve generally performed well, if not great, in our TV tests. But starting next month, you’ll be able to buy Amazon-branded Fire TV models that the company claims are being built by the company itself.

A big reason for the departure, the company says, is that by building its own sets, it can offer a better Fire TV experience that utilizes the company’s Alexa voice assistant.

“We’ve reimagined what a TV can do by building it with two of our most popular experiences at the core—the intelligent always-available power of far-field Alexa, and Fire TV’s content-forward approach to entertainment,” Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president of entertainment devices and services, said in a statement.

There will be two new TV lines. The 4-Series Fire TV sets, offered in 43-, 50-, and 55-inch screen sizes, are positioned as a lower-priced entry-level line. Prices range from $370 to $520. All are 4K sets that support the HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats.

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The Fire TV Omni sets are step-up models, with presumably better picture quality and more features. For example, in addition to Dolby Vision support on the two largest models, a key feature in all the Omni models is hands-free Alexa voice control; Omni sets all come with always-on far-field microphones built into the set, so voice commands are available even if the TV is off. (The 4-Series models require you to use the Alexa remote.) You’ll need to say “Alexa” to wake the TV up, just like you would wake an Echo speaker, or you can use the microphone button on the remote control.

Amazon is clearly counting on tighter Alexa integration to be a key selling point of its new TVs, especially the Omni models. You can use Alexa voice commands to control playback, find or return to your favorite shows and movies, get recommended content suggestions based on your installed video services, turn on closed captions, and adjust the TV brightness and sound.

This fall, Fire TVs will get an exclusive Alexa, Play Something feature from Netflix, which works like the streaming company’s own content recommendation system when you can’t decide what to watch. Fire TVs will also be able to watch TikTok videos simply by saying, “Alexa, play TikTok.”

If an always-on mic is a privacy concern—and perhaps it should be—there’s a switch on the bottom of the TV that lets you turn the mic off. The Omni sets also have a picture-in-picture feature that let you check a security camera or see a Ring doorbell video without interrupting your program, and they’ll be the first TVs that come with Zoom video calls built into the TV itself. (You’ll need to use a webcam for this feature, which will be available later this fall.) The TVs will also come with Alexa Calling, Amazon’s own videochat service.

Both the Omni and 4-Series TVs can automatically detect Echo speakers in your home and let you use them as stereo or surround-sound TV speakers.

Omni TVs will be offered in 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, and 75-inch screen sizes; all the new TVs support the HDR10 format, and the two largest Omni sets also get Dolby Vision. Prices range from $410 to $1,100. The 65-inch set, for example, costs $830. While the TVs won’t be available until next month, you can preorder them starting today.

Although Amazon says its TVs are “Amazon-built,” the company is probably working with other TV manufacturers to produce the sets. The company isn’t commenting, but the pictures we’ve seen show some design similarities with TCL sets we’ve tested. Looking at the available specifications, it doesn’t look like even the Omni sets have some step-up features, such as full-array LED backlights with local dimming, found on higher-performance sets from other brands.

And that, of course, leads to the big question: How well will these new TVs will perform when they hit our TV labs? So far, none of the Fire TVs from Insignia or Toshiba in our TV ratings have been top-performing sets. Many have been fine overall performers for the money, but none have done a very effective job presenting HDR, a big differentiator among TVs this year. We’ll be buying and testing a few of these new TVs as soon as they’re available.

Analysts we contacted said it’s still too soon to tell what the impact of Amazon-branded TVs will have on the market, and who the target customer is. “Based on the limited knowledge we have and the price points that have been announced, it appears that the Omni Series will mainly compete with secondary brands, such as Hisense, TCL, and Vizio,” says Stephen Baker, vice president, industry analysis at retail market research firm NPD group. “Of course, some tier-one brands, Samsung especially, also compete at those prices. But there’s still a lot to be known.”

The launch of Amazon’s own brand of TVs doesn’t appear to be hindering its relationship with Best Buy, which sells Fire TVs from Toshiba, and from the retailer’s own Insignia brand. In fact, Amazon announced that in addition to the new TVs being exclusively sold at both Amazon and Best Buy, a new budget line of Fire TV-based TVs under the Pioneer brand will only be available at the two retailers. They’ll also both carry a new line of Toshiba Fire TVs that have the far-field Alexa support found in the Fire TV Omni sets, though these new models won’t arrive until next spring.

In addition to the new TVs, Amazon will have a new 4K-enabled streaming player, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which will sell for $55. Essentially an upgraded version of the current Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, it has a faster processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM for faster app starts, support for both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos immersive sound. It’s also the first Amazon streaming player to support the latest wireless technology, WiFi 6.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is also the company’s first streaming stick to offer the live picture-in-picture feature found in the Omni TVs, which lets you connect wirelessly to Echo smart speakers.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.