Amazon enter Ultra HD TV arena

movie watching

AMAZON have revealed an ultra HD version of their Fire TV box and relaunched their Kindle Fire tablet range, the highlight of which is a seven inch version that costs less than £50.

The relaunch comes just a week after Apple unveiled the iPad Pro, iPhone 6S, and the long-awaited Apple TV.

The new Amazon Fire TV box, with ultra HD viewing capability, will start shipping from October 5th, but it's already available for pre-order.

App-based TV

Apple TV is app-based like Amazon Fire TV, and can be voice activated - like Amazon Fire TV. But it's expected to cost either $149 or $199 depending on how much internal storage users want.

That's up to twice as much as Amazon in the US are selling the ultra HD version of their Fire TV box for.

The new box is available to pre-order for $99 in the US, and £79.99 here, ahead of its October release; the UK prices for Apple TV haven't been announced yet, but it's reasonable to assume there'll be a similar price difference between the two systems.

As well as being much cheaper, Amazon's Fire TV has that Ultra HD capability going for it.

At present, there are only really two other providers offering Ultra HD - also known as 4K HD - to the British viewing public: Netflix and BT TV.

We covered the announcement and subsequent launch of BT's Entertainment Ultra HD service, and our guide to Netflix touches briefly on the UHD package - including the fact that upgrading to it gives customers the chance to watch on up to four screens at once.

The latter may be the bigger selling point for the service at the moment, as the detail of a UHD picture is likely to be lost on the current generation of HD-ready and "true HD" TVs.

Clever tech

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For the few who do have an Ultra HD TV, Amazon claim their new Fire TV box has access to more 4K content than any other streaming provider.

It helps that one of the apps included with Fire TV is Netflix - which, as we mentioned above, has a 4K subscription option and content to go with it.

But Fire TV also has access to Amazon Video, which also boasts some ultra HD shows and movies - among them Transparent and Better Call Saul.

Even those who don't have a 4K HD TV should still benefit from the technology inside the box.

It supports a form of video encoding called High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), which is roughly twice as efficient as the current industry standard.

That means it can support higher quality video streams with less bandwidth, giving many more viewers a better quality picture than they might expect.

The £50 tablet

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Meanwhile Amazon's new-and-improved Kindle Fire tablets are targeting a slightly different but equally important market.

After being the next big thing a few years ago, the tablet market has slowed right down. Apple's iPad Pro is an attempt to revitalise the upper end of it; Amazon's seven inch Kindle Fire is a very definite shot at the budget end.

That's not to say the £49.99 device is cheap and cheerful. At the launch event, Amazon were keen to show that just because it has a low price, that doesn't mean the tablet is made with low end components or lacking in quality.

They claim it's twice as tough as the iPad Air, and that it has a better display than an entry level Samsung tablet costing twice as much.

They also say it should be possible to get seven hours of mixed use out of the tablet on one charge.

Kid proof, sort of

Alongside the Kindle Fire 7 were new versions of the Fire HD 8 and HD 10 tablets, and the Fire Kids Edition.

The Fire HD tablets, costing £129.99 and £169.99, each offer front and back cameras, and widescreen HD displays.

The Fire Kids Edition is another seven inch tablet, but it costs twice as much as the standard version.

That could be because of the age appropriate content, the rugged bumper surrounding the tablet (only available in blue or pink - come on Amazon), or the "worry free" two year guarantee.

While the advertising suggests that however a child manages to break their tablet, the terms of the warranty state that it will be covered "against defects in materials and workmanship under ordinary consumer use for two years from the date of original retail purchase".

Whether Timmy deciding to film underwater in the bath with it counts as "ordinary consumer use" is open to interpretation, but perhaps Amazon get that a child's definition of "normal use" and an adult's may be slightly different.

In terms of content, the company say they'll soon be introducing a child friendly web browser, offering "controlled access" to age appropriate websites and Youtube videos.

In the meantime, however, small people get a year's free access to Fire for Kids Unlimited, where they'll find books, TV shows, games and educational apps.

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