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Media Streamers

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K streams in Dolby Vision HDR for $50

Its new Alexa voice remote now has buttons to control your TV's volume, power and mute. Watch out, Roku.

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Amazon

For years Roku has ruled CNET's list of best media streamers and left other affordable options -- namely Amazon's Fire TV and Google's Chromecast -- in the dust. Google's latest attempt to topple Roku remains under wraps (at least until next week) but Amazon's is now available for preorder. And Roku might have something to worry about.

The all-new Fire TV Stick 4K costs $50 (£50) and comes equipped with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ video and Dolby Atmos audio, which promise higher video and audio quality to compatible TVs and audio systems. No Roku streamer has Dolby Vision or HDR10+.

Amazon also "borrowed" a page from Roku by adding the ability to control your TV's volume, mute and power with dedicated buttons on the remote. I love that feature on Roku's own devices, like its 2017 Streaming Stick, because it allows you to pretty much ditch your TV's clicker. 

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The new Fire TV remote has volume and power keys to control TVs.

Amazon

Amazon sells the new remote separately for $30 (£30), so you can enable that sweet TV control on older Fire TV devices including the Fire TV Cube -- fixing one of my biggest complaints about that device, the lack of volume control on the remote.

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The Fire TV Stick 4K also has a 1.7GHz processor, faster than 1.5Ghz chip in the 2017 Fire TV, a 4K streamer with a dangling "pendant" design. Amazon claims smoother response times and faster loading as a result.

All of the standard Fire TV features are on board too. You speak into its mic to issue voice commands like telling it to play, rewind, fast-forward and navigate through content, or pair it with an Alexa speaker for far-field, hands-free control. Voice controls are also coming to more apps, including A&E, AMC, Sony Crackle, Hallmark Movies Now, HBO Now, History, IFC, Lifetime and VH1. 

Amazon's seething mass of new products includes the cord-cutter-friendly Fire TV Recast in the US, which requires a Fire TV device (like the 4K stick) and streams antenna TV shows. Amazon is bundling a Fire TV 4K, a Recast and an antenna for $250 (a $50 savings). Another bundle, available in both the US and UK, pairs a Fire TV 4K with the new Echo Dot for $80 or £80 (a savings of $20/£20).

The $50 Roku Premiere+, coming in October, is the Fire TV 4K's stiffest competition. Now that Roku has answered Alexa's voice challenge with the addition of Google Assistant, the main differences between the two come down to on-screen interface (Fire TV favors Amazon content while Roku provides a more level playing field for all apps) and Dolby Vision. In my experience, the image quality benefits of Dolby Vision over the standard HDR10 format are minor at best, but if your TV supports the format, it's nice to have the option. 

Dolby Vision, HDR10, Technicolor and HLG: HDR formats explained

Many smart TVs have Dolby Vision support built into their streaming apps, but until now the only standalone streamers that did were the $70 Chromecast Ultra and the $180 Apple TV 4K. At launch the Netflix app on the Fire TV Stick 4K will support Dolby Vision, but Amazon's own catalog of Dolby Vision titles is sparse. It consists of the original series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan and Bosch (Season 2 only), as well as a handful of old Sony Pictures movies including The Smurfs 2 and After Earth. 

Vudu and Apple's iTunes, neither of which are available on Fire TV 4K, offer a much larger selection of Dolby Vision movies. It's also worth noting that Movies Anywhere films you may own will be not be playable in Dolby Vision via the Fire TV Stick 4K (you can link movies and play them back in 4K, but not Dolby Vision). On the other hand many of Amazon's originals are in HDR10+ (supported on Samsung TVs), including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Bosch, Sneaky Pete and The Man in the High Castle. 

Thanks to Amazon's proven Alexa voice system, support for the latest HDR formats and the new remote, with the Fire TV 4K Amazon has a better chance than ever of unseating Roku. It ships October 31. Stay tuned for the full CNET review.

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