Getting a firsthand look at Amazon’s latest Fire TV search, powered by AI

AI-powered, Amazon, Fire TV, Search

Searching for streaming content can be a daunting task in today’s age of countless options. With so many platforms and genres, finding something that satisfies the whole family can seem impossible. That’s why Amazon’s new AI-powered voice search function for Fire TVs piqued my interest. The promise of making searching easier and smarter sounded like the solution to my streaming woes. I’ve had the opportunity to try out this feature, and while it shows promise, it falls short of being consistently reliable and useful.

The concept is simple – you can use natural language to ask Alexa to find something to watch. Whether you have a specific show in mind or unsure of what you’re in the mood for, simply tap the Alexa button on the Fire TV remote and ask questions like, “What’s that show about money laundering set in the mountains?” or “Show me British crime dramas with female leads.” Alexa should then assist you in finding relevant content. Essentially, it’s like flipping through channels, but with Alexa doing the flipping for you.

This functionality is made possible by Amazon’s new large language model (LLM) specifically designed to identify and recommend movies and TV shows using natural language inputs. It is being gradually introduced to eligible Fire TV devices running Fire OS 6 or higher. The model is trained on data from services like IMDb, allowing it to find content based on factors such as genre, plot points, actors, and quotes. During a demonstration by Joshua Park, senior product manager of Fire TV, various queries were presented, and Alexa successfully provided accurate answers. For example, asking, “Show me the movie where Tom Hanks is a pilot and has to land on the Hudson” yielded the film “Sully.”

While the search function is impressive, it falls short in delivering substantial value. As a user, I expect more than just a reminder of a show or movie I can easily find using my phone. My hope is that this AI-powered service will utilize its extensive dataset to sort through the vast number of options and recommend high-quality content. I want it to be akin to the knowledgeable video store clerk from my youth who could suggest hidden gems. Unfortunately, the current search feature does not meet these expectations.

One of the main limitations of Alexa’s AI-powered search is its inability to engage in in-depth, conversational dialogue beyond a couple of queries. While future updates aim to address this shortfall, at present, it can struggle to offer comprehensive responses when presented with broader prompts. The search function’s capability to provide helpful context by indicating which streaming apps can stream a particular show and whether it’s free is commendable. However, the ultimate goal is a more intelligent search service that recommends quality content, not just jog my memory.

During my test run, I requested Alexa to “Show me some dark comedies with violence,” expecting relevant and up-to-date suggestions. Unfortunately, the results were underwhelming, featuring only movies that were over two decades old, alongside an unexpected inclusion of a Barbie movie. A more specific query, “Show me TV series with more than six episodes that are highly rated,” yielded just two anime shows, one with a high rating and the other with a mediocre one. Even for an avid anime fan, this recommendation missed the mark.

Disappointed with the initial results, I decided to switch to a more general request, asking Alexa to “Show me something good to watch.” To my surprise, the suggestions were rather bizarre, including classic British detective show Miss Marple, followed by questionable options like The Curious Female and Super Vixens, which appeared to be ’70s soft-core porn films with low ratings. It’s evident that Amazon’s search capabilities are still in their early stages.

Amazon claims that the search function is designed to be personalized to each user’s preferences, but this feature was not apparent during my demonstration at Amazon’s HQ. However, after receiving the new update on my Fire Stick, I repeated the “something good to watch” query and was relieved to find more appropriate suggestions such as Dune: Part Two, Shōgun, and Sugar. This improvement indicates that Amazon is actively working to refine its search functionality.

In conclusion, Amazon’s AI-powered voice search has the potential to revolutionize the way we navigate streaming content. By allowing users to utilize natural language, it aims to simplify the process of finding movies and TV shows. While the current implementation falls short of delivering consistently reliable and insightful recommendations, it’s important to note that it is still early days for this feature. As Amazon continues to refine and expand its search capabilities, we can anticipate a more intelligent and efficient search service that truly alleviates the burden of content discovery. Until then, users can continue to rely on existing methods, such as recommendations from friends and personal research, to find their next streaming gem.

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