Toshiba’s Fire TV puts Amazon and Alexa at the forefront – here's what it's like to use

What if the Fire TV experience was baked in?

What it's like to use Toshiba's Fire TV
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With the Amazon Fire TV Cube now on the scene, the plug-in Fire TV stick and box aren't the only way to get Alexa and Amazon’s services on your television set. But wait, there is another way. What if Alexa came built in? In fact, what if Amazon Fire TV was baked in too?

Enter the Toshiba Fire TV Edition, a smart TV which is exactly that. This isn’t the first time Amazon has done it either: last year it collaborated with Element, Seiki and Westinghouse for a lineup of Amazon-integrated TVs. And those were largely fine, oscillating between live content and Amazon’s well-fed platform of services – but Amazon felt they were too simple. So in 2018 it’s taking another swing at a full TV set, promising there will be multiple TVs throughout the year from different manufacturers, as part of a bigger partnership Amazon has struck up with Best Buy.

Read this: How to control your TV with Alexa

But it all starts with Toshiba, which is launching three 4K models of its first Amazon-integrated set, in 43, 50, and 55 inches. All of them have full HDR support and will work with your existing devices, which now integrate into the Amazon OS that Fire TV users will already be familiar with. Switch it on and you’ll , you can scroll down and see a list of your connected devices, like a Blu-ray player or soundbar, as well as any channels that are available through your cable subscription service. If you have an existing box, like a Roku TV, you can still switch over to that.

Toshiba’s Fire TV puts Amazon and Alexa at the forefront - and I took it for a spin

Like the Fire TV Cube, the Toshiba TV is made both for people who are running cable or have cut the cord entirely. The homescreen will show you a mixture of content from your connected services like Netflix, Hulu etc, and your cable subscriptions. There's an 'On now' section that lines up your antenna channels any any channels you're getting through Prime to show you what's on at that very moment.

If one app has the movie for free and another is charging, Amazon will default to the free one

But there are more interesting ways in which Amazon helps you discover and surface movies and shows, taking advantage of one of the best-fed platforms around. For example, you can ask Alexa to "play movies starring Clint Eastwood" and it'll scan across all of your connected services and show a mixture of available options. Or if you ask it to play Stranger Things, it'll boot into Netflix without you needing to specify the service. If a show is available on more than one service, it'll ask you to clarify which you want, or if one has it for free and another is going to charge a fee, Amazon will default to the free one. That's handy.

You'll see recommendations from your connected services on the home screen too. You know how Netflix now targets you with recommended docs about serial killers because you watched an episode of Evil Genius? That stream will appear on the Amazon home screen. Same with Vue's and Hulu's.

And what if you want to buy this TV but don’t want to create an Amazon account? You’ll be able to use a guest account, which offers a more basic experience but will give you access to most of the same apps.

Alexa is living in the TV

Toshiba’s Fire TV puts Amazon and Alexa at the forefront - here's what it's like to use

I was able to say, “Alexa, show me my front door camera” and the screen switched to a live feed

The TV comes with three HDMI ports, one of which is ARC, and anything connected will show up on the home screen – but you can use Alexa to open these too. Amazon offers a few pre-set options to pick from here, so you can command "Alexa, switch to Blu-ray".

To speak to Alexa, you'll need to hold down the talk button on the remote and speak into it. That’s a difference from the Fire TV Cube, which is always listening for commands. But there is another way, as you can control the TV by commanding other Echo speakers in your house. Amazon says the full range of commands are supported, so if you wanted you could ask your Echo Dot, “Alexa, tune to ABC” and the TV would do so.

The remote here has a few more buttons than the one you'll get with the Stick or Cube – Amazon has added volume buttons (natch) and there are now shortcut buttons for Amazon, Netflix, HBO and PlayStation Vue.

Toshiba’s Fire TV puts Amazon and Alexa at the forefront - and I took it for a spin

The Alexa integration works both ways, as TV Alexa is as functional as it is in the Echo speakers, meaning you can control all of your connected smart home devices in just the same way. In my demo I was able to push the Alexa button and tell the remote to turn off a lamp – and it did. This also means you can take advantage of the optical element, which you won’t get on every other Alexa device. I was able to say, “Alexa, show me my front door camera” and suddenly the screen switched to a live feed from outside, much the way it works on the Echo Show.

Toshiba Amazon Fire TV
Toshiba Amazon Fire TV

Finally, Alexa can be used to control playback, like fast-forwarding, pausing or skipping a specified amount of time, but this feature is going to be limited to start with – until more app makers use Amazon's VSK to add the functionality. Amazon says this VSK is available for them to use now, so hopefully we'll see it working across the gamut of services before too long.

As for sound, the Toshiba Fire TV can do 5.1 surround sound and 7.1 if you're not mixing. The 43-inch model costs $329, the 50-inch model is $399 while going the full 55 inches will set you back $479.99. And all of them are available right now.

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