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Toshiba's new Fire TV M-Series promises better picture quality with HDR, local dimming

The Amazon Alexa-powered smart TVs go on sale today, starting at $650 for the 55-inch size.


Until now Amazon's Fire TV system has generally appeared on cheap TVs with middling image quality, but the new M-Series from Toshiba aims higher. Out today, it's the first Fire TV equipped with full-array local dimming, a feature that boosts all-important contrast and allows an LCD TV to take more advantage of high dynamic range (HDR) TV shows, movies and games.

The M-Series is available in three sizes: the 55-inch 55M550KU for $800, the 65-inch 65M550KU for $1,000 and the 75-inch 75M550KU for $1,200. Note that those prices are MSRP, so sale prices will be lower (the 55-inch is on sale now for $650, for example). But they're in the same range as the TCL 6-Series Roku TV, our favorite midpriced TV of the year, and the Vizio MQ7 series, another TV we liked that also features local dimming. 

Toshiba said the M550KU TVs have "up to 48" zones of local dimming, but didn't provide more detail by press time. Typically larger TVs in a series have more dimming zones, so it's likely the number on the 55- and 65-inch models is lower. More dimming zones often means more precise illumination and better picture quality, although that's not always the case. For comparison, the TCL has 240 zones in its 75-inch size and the Vizio has 32.

Other image quality extras on the Toshiba include a 120Hz native refresh rate, which should improve motion performance and reduce blurring (as usual you can ignore the Motion Rate 240 spec). Format support is solid, with the ability to handle Dolby Vision video as well as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio. Gamers will appreciate that the TV offers Auto Low Latency mode, but Toshiba didn't say whether other advanced gaming extras, in particular 4K/120Hz input or VRR, are supported.

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The Toshiba M-series Fire TV offers the same smart TV system as the local dimming-free Amazon Fire TV Omni, including hands-free access to Alexa by simply speaking the "Alexa" wake word, no remote required, and issuing commands into thin air. It's kind of like having an Echo built into the TV itself. And just like the Omni, the M-Series has a physical switch to disable the mic if you don't want it listening.

The Fire TV system isn't our favorite -- it's too cluttered with ads and Amazon promotions compared to the simplicity of Roku -- but it does offer easy access to the usual cavalcade of streaming services, from Netflix to Disney Plus to Hulu to, yes, Amazon Prime Video. Like the Omni, the M-series also supports Apple AirPlay.

Toshiba said the M550KU series will be available starting today at Best Buy and Amazon, although early in the day only the 55-inch size was in stock -- and only at Best Buy. We expect all sizes to be available at both retailers soon.