Hands-on with Amazon’s new AI-powered Fire TV search

Navigating the sheer volume of streaming content available today can be a full-time job. Recommendations from friends, blog posts, and TikToks from movies I haven’t thought about in years are all helpful. But finding something that myself, my husband, my 13-year-old daughter, and my 16-year-old son all want to watch together remains a Herculean task.

So when Amazon announced its new AI-powered voice search feature for Fire TVs during its fall event last year, I was intrigued. With its promise to make finding content easier and smarter, I hoped it would be the solution to my problems. I’ve now had some hands-on time with the new feature, and while it looks promising, like a lot of AI-based research at the moment, it’s just not reliable enough to be very useful.

The basic idea is that you can use more natural language to ask Alexa to find you something to watch. Whether you have a show in mind but can’t remember the name or aren’t sure what you want, press the Alexa button on the Fire TV remote and ask questions like “What is it?” what is this show about money laundering? located in the mountains? or “Show me some British crime dramas with female leads,” and the voice assistant should help you figure it out. It’s the equivalent of AI for flipping through channels, only Alexa does the flipping for you.

All of this is powered by a new extended language model (LLM) developed by Amazon, designed to surface content from movies and TV shows using natural language input. It starts rolling out today to eligible Fire TV devices running Fire OS 6 or later. At launch, it’s able to find content based on things like topic, genre, plot points, actors, and quotes thanks to its training on data from services like IMDb.

Amazon’s Joshua Park, senior product manager for Fire TV, demonstrated AI search to me at Amazon’s Day One headquarters in Seattle earlier this month. He showed me several requests, including: “Show me the movie where Tom Hanks is a pilot and has to land on the Hudson” (Defile); “What is the TV show that mentions McDonald’s Szechuan sauce? » (Rick and Morty); and “Show me the nature documentary narrated by Obama” (Our great national parks). Alexa did a good job with all of these, but while it’s neat, these are all I can search on my phone while sitting on the couch.

Amazon adds useful context to the results, including showing you which apps you have can stream the show and whether it’s free for you. But what I want from a smarter search service is not something that jogs my memory, but something smart enough to find me something good to watch. I want it to use its vast data set to sift through items and find quality items for me. I want it to be that old-school video store salesman from my youth.

When Daniel Rausch, vice president of Alexa and Fire TV, demoed the search feature on stage at Amazon’s fall event last year, that’s literally what he promised, saying that using the feature was “like talking to a great friend who is also the best video store salesman in the world.” »

His demo involved a much more capable Alexa than the one I saw in Seattle. He asked Alexa to “find me some action movies,” then was able to continue talking to the assistant to find movies he wouldn’t have to pay for, ones he hadn’t seen yet (or at least they weren’t). t in his Fire TV viewing history), the ones that were good for his teenagers, then finally asks him for a context clue: “We like video games, which should we choose?” He suggested Scott Pilgrim. NOW that is very useful.

I could chat with Alexa, including pauses, uhs, and ahs, and she understood (for the most part) what I asked.

Park tells me that these kinds of in-depth conversational exchanges are planned for future updates. While I was trying out the current features, I couldn’t get them to go beyond two queries before they started to crash. He also struggled to come up with more than a few correct answers to broader queries such as “Show me Oscar-winning films from the 1970s.”

“It’s definitely day one for us,” Park explained when I asked about these limitations. “We definitely have an idea of ​​what we need to do to improve it, so that whatever the customer wants, we’re able to find the right content for them. »

What it does do well is improve on the current state of Alexa voice search, which, like most voice commands, requires specific nomenclature to display the correct results. With the new Fire TV search, I was able to chat with Alexa, including pauses, uhs, and uhs, and I (for the most part) understood what I asked.

But I was largely disappointed with the results. To see if it would improve my family’s viewing situation, I suggested the message “Show me dark comedies with violence.” (I love romantic comedies and my husband loves horror movies.) Heathers, American Psycho, pulp FictionAnd barbie. In addition barbie being totally out of left field, the others were all over 20 years old. Useless.

Then I tried something much more specific. We like to find shows we can watch together, so I asked, “Show me TV shows with more than six highly rated episodes.” He suggested two shows, both animated. One was rated nine out of 10, but the other five out of 10. Even for an avid anime fan, this isn’t a great result.

At this point I decided to answer what I thought was a softball question. The kind of thing I could have asked that video store clerk: “Show me something good to watch.” » The results were… weird. His first suggestion was Miss Marple (a classic British crime show that I really like but is very old), but its second and third options were The curious woman And Super Vixens, which not only appear to be soft-core porn from the 70s, but have very poor ratings on IMDB.

Yes, it’s still early. Amazon spokesperson Ashley Aruda contacted me after posting this to share issues I encountered with “search relevance.” during my demo were addressed. She noted that the version I tested was not the one delivered to customers today.

I tested AI Search on May 3, about three weeks ago, on a Fire Stick at Amazon headquarters. I received the update on my Fire Stick this morning, so I was able to repeat the “something good to watch” request. I’m happy to say there were no signs of curious females. Instead, Alexa suggested Dune: part two, Shogun And Sugar. So it looks like I’m ready for my weekend viewing.

Updated May 30: I added that Amazon reached out after publication to note that I had tested an earlier version of the search function, not the one shipping to users today, and that the company is optimistic that the issues I have encountered have been resolved.

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