As streaming shatters, here’s how Amazon wants to glue it ba…

Continue watching row on the Amazon Fire TV home screen.
The Continue Watching row on the home screen is a new improvement to Amazon Fire TV, with others coming in early 2024. Phil Nickinson/

good news everyone! Amazon has already revealed what’s in store for the Fire TV in 2024. At least something is in the store.

Flash back to its fall 2023 product announcements at HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, in September 2023, when Amazon showed off new hardware with new features — specifically, the refreshed Fire TV Stick Max 4K, and the latest Ambient Experiences with it. Good stuff, all around.

This is on the hardware side of things. The software is always improving, and Amazon said these key features are coming in the first quarter of 2024:

  • Updated search results that leverage the power of large language models. (Call it AI discovery if necessary.)
  • Ability to create AI-manipulated backgrounds from your own photos.

Two of those things are directly related to the major leaps in AI processing that Amazon (and others) put front and center in 2023. And in this case, we as end users will be able to take advantage of them as early as 2024. And that’s just the stuff we know about it. (A third new feature, the ability to add apps to the “Continue Watching” row of the home screen, is already available, but look to add more apps in the future.)

We chatted with Joshua Dinowitz, Director of Fire TV Experience at Amazon, about all that. and then some.

Better search through AI

If it seems like every tech company in the world cares more about big language models than anything else these days, you’re not necessarily wrong. Or, at least, LLMs have gained an increasingly more prominent position in public-facing facilities. And this will be extremely evident in the search results you get when using Amazon Fire TV. We got a taste of it at Amazon’s September event, and we’ll be trying it ourselves in early 2024.

“We’re already very good at helping customers when they know what they want to see,” Danowitz said before giving some examples. “Find Tom Cruise movies for me. Show me comedy or rom-com movies. Or if you know the name of the title. Easy. We are very good at it.”

That is the basic finding. Table stakes for a company like Amazon in 2023. It’s the edge cases – where you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for – that are more difficult. And that’s what all this “AI discovery” stuff is trying to address. And it’s being done in a way that’s less mechanical and more like you’d ask a human being.

Introducing Amazon’s latest devices and services 2023

“What we’re doing with the LLM,” Denowitz continued, “is making it so you can have a conversation and then have a multi-turn, almost conversational style, when you don’t really know (it’s what you are). ‘Looking for it).”

Those of us of a certain age can remember what it was like to go to a video-rental store and search in real time. With one person.

“If you look back 20 years, you go into your local video store and say things like, ‘Hey, what was that movie where someone was, you know, trapped in a submarine?’ You know where you’re trying to go, but you don’t really remember all the details. That’s the kind of thing that LLM research will help with.”

Search results for Amazon Fire TV in 2024 should be even better.

Denowitz said refining results is another major use case of LLM-powered search.

“The next thing will be when you don’t know exactly what the title is, but you’ll say, ‘Hey, I’d like to find cartoon movies with dinosaurs. But only free ones.’ Today, that’s not something we’re able to provide.”

It’s all about simplifying things for those of us who are just trying to watch something, especially in a space as fragmented – and ever-changing – as streaming.

“Video discovery is a journey, and it’s hard today,” Denowitz said. “Honestly, I think one of the trends that is often talked about is the integration of content, how it’s being moved around. It is becoming difficult for customers. We used to think that, you know, it was going to be difficult with hundreds of cable channels or a few streaming apps at first. It’s really getting more complicated with all the different bundles, name changes, price changes going to different tiers.

Expand ambient experience

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the first device to include the Ambient Experience outside of the Omni QLED line of Fire TVs. In 2024, we hope to see the Ambient Experience coming to additional Fire TV devices, because it’s that good.

Denowitz said: “It was the first time that we decided, like, ‘Hey, let’s not just do it on a television with sensors, let’s do it on a device that doesn’t have a sensor — a stick — because it’s so different. ‘It’s the way customers interact.’ ,

Of course, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, and there’s a reason why the Ambient Experience wasn’t initially launched in the larger Fire TV lineup. And that reason wasn’t just to sell more 4K Max sticks.

A dynamic background on the Amazon Fire TV ambient experience.
A dynamic background with widgets on the Amazon Fire TV Ambient Experience. Phil Nickinson/

“Some environments are more processor-intensive,” Denowitz said. “Some of it uses more AI, some uses connections to other services and the back end. And so it could definitely be per hardware device.”

Software is always at the mercy of the hardware it runs on. And Danowitz wouldn’t say whether we can expect the immersive experience on more existing hardware — you’ll have to believe that the Fire TV Cube is probably quite powerful — or if we’ll have to wait for new hardware updates that will require users to purchase. There will be a need afresh. But we can, at least, hope for improvements in the current implementation of the ambient experience.

The Ambient Experience is still limited to just two categories of Fire TV devices – for now.

“We’re getting great feedback directly from customers,” Denowitz said. “But also likes on our home page where people are interacting with it. So that’s really exciting and we’re continuing to invest in additional ambient features [user experience] To actually even have access to this facility.”

Omni QLED televisions have on-board sensors to detect if someone is in the room and within sight of the TV before triggering Ambient Experience features. The Fire TV Stick doesn’t have that. But they do have the ability to talk to other devices via API—say, the Amazon Echo family, the Ring doorbell, or possibly some of the Eero family of wireless routers. And it could potentially give the Fire TV Ambient Experience more data about whether there’s someone in the room.

“There are a lot of really interesting things you can do with other sensors in your home,” Denowitz said. “We actually have a lot of conversations with customers can Also be helpful for television interaction. …Are there other ways to understand if someone is there or when you should trigger something? “We’re exploring some of that.”

AI art is coming

Another fun feature we’re looking forward to is AI Art. The demo that Amazon’s Daniel Roush showed in September seemed simple enough and not unlike many phone apps — take your images, run them through some AI processing, and output something new. Something more artistic.

Amazon Fire TV AI-generated art.
The AI-generated art, seen on Amazon Fire TV, is based on a personal photo uploaded to Amazon Photos. Phil Nickinson/

Right now, Danowitz said, the focus is on a few key features. “Like, I’m having a dinner party, and I want there to be some artwork or something beautiful that I made myself.” This is “the most important thing for us to demonstrate to customers.”

Of course, this is fraught with danger because people are human and will test the limits of what Amazon wants to create with user-generated content. We just have to see how far those limits go. But for people who just want to create something new – without trying to pull off any kind of scam in the process – this would be a nice feature.

New hardware in 2024

Denowitz will definitely (and understandably) not be involved in any kind of new Fire TV hardware coming in 2024. But given the rhythm of product releases, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone to see something new coming from Fire. TV team. The question is what and when.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2023) and Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2023).
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Stick 4K Max were the only Fire TV hardware updates at the Fall 2023 event. Phil Nickinson/

In September 2023 only the top end of the Fire TV Stick lineup – the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and non-Max versions – was refreshed. And these impending updates helped elevate the Fire TV Stick 4K Max as the most innovative streaming device released last year.

Of course new hardware is likely to arrive in 2024.

Looking ahead, the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite were last refreshed in 2020. They are likely due to the update, which will refresh the bottom end of the line. The Fire TV Cube is a tough call. It gets new hardware in late 2022, but it’s hard to say it’s top of the lineup at the moment, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has everything right now, including the ambient experience that the Cube lacks.

This doesn’t mean you’ll have to buy new hardware in 2024 if you want to get the new features. But as mentioned earlier, a large part of this is hardware dependent. So if you’ve been delaying buying new Fire TV hardware, 2024 might be a good year to do so.

“We appreciate that customers love it – like, they bought something a year or two ago and would like to keep it,” Denowitz said, “We keep adding as many features as we can to all those devices.” Because it’s good to be smart when you get it.”

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