Amazon’s latest Fire TV is smarter than ever, thanks to ambient intelligence and Alexa

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Chris Turkstra spent a lot of time watching television and he didn’t like what he saw.

“No one would buy something big and empty and tape it to the wall,” says Turkstra, Amazon’s general manager for Fire TV Products. “We’ve all adapted to that. The value that TVs give us when they’re on is very high, so we forgive them for looking ugly when they’re off.”

That’s why Turkstra and his colleagues at Amazon have made it their mission over the last year to eliminate this trade-off. They worked to bring ambient intelligence to the TV, where technologies like digital systems, services and devices like TVs work together invisibly to us – and can even anticipate our needs.

Chris Turkstra, general manager for Fire TV products at Amazon.

“Ideally, the product can fade into the background while still displaying something interesting when you’re looking at it,” said John Criswell, who led Amazon’s effort to bring ambient intelligence to the TV.

The result of their work will soon be available to everyone: the Fire TV Omni QLED Series family of televisions. “We’ve been buying so-called smart TVs for decades, but they really aren’t that smart,” says Daniel Rausch, vice president of Amazon Entertainment Devices and Services. “The Fire TV Omni QLED series redefines what consumers can expect from a smart TV.”

Announced at Amazon’s fall launch event for devices and services Coming in late September, the new Fire TV will have deep voice integration – so you can easily interact with your TV using just your voice. A new feature called Adaptive Brightness allows the TV to understand the lighting in the room and intelligently adjust picture brightness to match the environment. And a pair of sensors work with Alexa, Amazon’s artificial language intelligence (AI) to transform the TV from a sluggish empty box into a smart and interactive canvas on which to display photos and art.

Unlike other TVs, the new Fire TV contains gallery-quality art and comes with more than 1,500 free landscapes, moving images, impressionist pieces, and photographs curated from museums and artists around the world. It’s all part of the new Fire TV Ambient Experience, which completely transforms the largest screen in your home into something that’s both useful and beautiful.

“You can ask Alexa a series of questions about the artworks you see in the Ambient Experience, such as: E.g. ‘Tell me more about this photo’ or ‘Who drew that?’” said Rausch. “At my house we learned a lot about the Impressionist pieces from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.”

The TV can also play music and provide access to widgets that provide users with up-to-date information and help them navigate their day. Dan Tuckman, who leads product marketing for Amazon-built Fire TVs, said the picture quality alone makes the Fire TV Omni QLED series a fantastic place to watch your favorite soccer team. “With Ambient Experience, the TV can now provide at-a-glance visual information when I need it, and it’s beautiful in my home,” he said.

In terms of picture and sound, the new Fire TV – there are 65-inch and 75-inch versions – is equipped with the latest picture quality technology. It features a 4K quantum dot LED display that displays bright, vivid colors with local dimming that allows for deeper darks and brighter whites. The display also features the latest advances in high dynamic range technology. It supports streaming content in the latest HDR formats such as Dolby Vision IQ and HDR10+, allowing customers to enjoy a cinema-like experience at home. Where customers can enjoy more than 1 million TV episodes and movies available on Fire TV in the US, including new series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and Thursday night soccer on Primevideo. It’s “a TV for people who want a cinematic viewing experience,” Turkstra said.

raising the baseline

An image of the corner of a wall-mounted Fire TV Cube and text below pointing to the bottom of the TV that reads "Occupancy and ambient light sensors."

The journey to ambient TV began like many other projects at Amazon: listening to the customer and then working backwards from their insights. “The majority of TV buyers believe their TVs could be more innovative and intelligent,” said David Meckstroth, Head of Go-To-Market for Fire TV. “It’s not that we’re changing everything about TV, but with Ambient Experience we’re trying to expand the definition of what a TV can be and do.”

Meckstroth said Amazon has “a lot of intelligence” around artificial intelligence that teams could use when designing the TV, from content to optimizing images, video quality and audio. “I think we have a lot to give to improve the basis of what a TV can do and what people’s expectations are. It’s really exciting,” he said.

Now you see me, now you don’t

Arlen Dean, a senior software manager who started work on the new Fire TV Omni QLED series last year, said that “the big goal is to push the boundaries.” He said the project was a highly collaborative effort involving numerous teams, including hardware and software design, Amazon photo products and Alexa. “We put together a pretty cross-functional group to build this,” he said.

Tuckman, the head of product marketing, said integrating tools like Amazon Photos, Alexa-powered widgets, Amazon Music, and smart home controls took many long days and tough decisions. “It’s about finding the right balance so that the content adds to the experience in the space without being distracting,” he said.

As they searched for the sweet spot between engagement and distraction, the team quickly realized that finding one solution that worked for everyone was going to be difficult. “Generally, our approach was to figure out how to create the right options so that users can customize the experience to work the way they want it to,” Dean said.

For this reason, the team has equipped the new TV range with a range of adjustable functions. Customers can change how often the on-screen graphics or photography shift, choose between a number of unique widget layouts, and mute the microphone — although Criswell definitely won’t do that.

An image of a Fire TV with various widgets.

“One of the things I loved about working on this project is that my wife enjoys using voice to interface with the television. She’s not a techie, she’s a typical customer, and from the moment I joined the team and brought home the Fire TV Omni QLED Series, voice was the first way she interacted with it.” said Criswell.

Invest in the future

Criswell’s experience is an anecdotal yet important signal for Turkstra, who said the inclusion of the far-field microphone to control the TV and the sensors that initiate the ambient experience is a significant bet.

“We sweat on every dollar, so these are really investments in our future,” he said. “The whole goal is to make it so that in a few years people will be like, ‘What do you mean you can’t talk to your TV?’ or “What do you mean your TV doesn’t come with thousands of artworks for free?”

“We want to change the baseline of what people expect from their televisions because, honestly, I think there are a lot of things we can do as a company that make the customer experience even better.”

To learn more about Fire TV and our latest devices and services, visit everything we announced at the Fall Launch Event.

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