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Friday
Aug042017

Podcast #803: Element 55” 4K Ultra HDTV, Fire TV Edition Review

In addition to the plethora of native Smart TV interfaces on the market, we’ve seen TVs come out with the Smart interface provided by a third party like Roku or Google. Amazon has recently jumped into that group as well by partnering with TV manufacturers to bring the full FireTV experience directly into the television set. We got our hands on the 55” 4K model from Element and got to play around with it for a bit.

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Element 55” 4K Ultra HDTV, Fire TV Edition Review

In addition to the plethora of native Smart TV interfaces on the market, we’ve seen TVs come out with the Smart interface provided by a third party like Roku or Google. Amazon has recently jumped into that group as well by partnering with TV manufacturers to bring the full FireTV experience directly into the television set. We got our hands on the 55” 4K model from Element and got to play around with it for a bit.

We used model EL4KAMZ5517, with a going price of $649, but Element also sells the FireTV edition set in 65”, 50” and 43”.

Features

  • Fire TV Edition is a smart TV experience that seamlessly integrates your favorite streaming and live over-the-air content on a unified home screen (HD antenna required).
  • Experience true-to-life 4K UHD picture quality with over 8 million pixels for stunning clarity, deep contrast, and brilliant colors. Refresh Rate: 60 Hz (Native), 120 Hz (Effective).
  • The Fire TV experience is built in so you can enjoy over 15,000 channels, apps, and Alexa skills. Get universal search results across over 140 channels and apps including Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and Prime Video.
  • The included Voice Remote with Alexa allows you to control live TV playback, launch apps, search for TV shows, play music, switch inputs, control smart home devices, and much more.
  • Prime members get unlimited access to Prime Video, featuring thousands of movies and TV episodes at no additional cost.
  • input/output options: 4 HDMI 2.0 including 1 with ARC, 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card, Ethernet, composite/component, headphone, optical audio out.

 

Setup

As you can imagine, setup for a FireTV based television is incredibly simple. Sometimes we remember back to the good old days when you had to align a CRT, or connect an HD video signal with 5 RGBHV cables. You had to put in some work to watch good television. Not anymore. We screwed on the feet, plugged the TV in, connected it to WiFi and we’re ready in under 10 minutes. No cables to connect at all - except power of course.

Once the FireTV interface came up it already knew who we were and connected itself to our Amazon Prime account. This is most likely because we bought the set from Amazon, and may not happen if you purchase it through another retailer. But nonetheless, it was a great touch. We spent a while finding our favorite content apps like Netflix and HBO, and we were ready to lean back on the couch and watch some HDTV.

In other setups you may go a bit further than we did. If this is your primary TV, you may want to connect an over-the-air antenna so you can watch free, live TV. If you do that, your live TV integrates seamlessly into the FireTV experience. Or you may have a Set-Top box or Blu-ray player to connect. I that case you’d have to switch inputs to use those devices every time you boot up. Of course you can get live TV from an app like SlingTV, and you can get 4K movies from Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, etc. So you may be able to remove all those devices altogether anyways.

 

Usage

It is very clear from the first moment anything appears on screen that Amazon wants the FireTV experience to be incredibly easy and frictionless. The TV removes all the difficult setup questions, any strange configuration steps like scanning for channels, are handled for you. The TV is designed to make any user, with any grasp of technology, successful with it. In fact, the remote has voice search, so if you can’t find something or can’t figure something out, just ask it.

If you use an over-the-air antenna with the Element FireTV set, you’re going to love how tightly integrated the channel guide is with the rest of the FireTV experience. You get two weeks of guide info, which is cool, but you don’t have a DVR, so how are into the future are you really going to browse? And while it’s not a DVR, the TV does have a tiny amount of built-in memory, allowing you to pause live TV for a couple minutes if you really need to. This means you can make that quick snack run, answer a quick phone call, or take a quick bathroom break without missing anything.

Amazon Prime members can also subscribe to premium content channels directly through Amazon. You can get channels like HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc. without the need for a cable subscription. If you subscribe to any of that premium content through Amazon, those channels will appear in your guide alongside the live TV channels. Amazon has done a great job of creating a full Cable TV experience for the cord cutter. Another cool, differentiating feature is that the channel info and guide are also integrated with Alexa and voice search from the remote. You can tell Alexa to go to a channel by name (“ABC, NBC, CBS, ...”) so you don’t have to remember the numbers.

 

Performance

The Smart TV interface and incredibly simple user experience of the Element set are awesome. Unfortunately, that’s where the awesome abruptly stops. Yes it’s a 4K set, so the resolution is great. But everything else about this TV comes up mediocre. The black levels are dark grey at best, the contrast is meh, edges are grainy, colors are just OK, and there is almost no ability to calibrate the TV whatsoever. They went so far to make the TV easy that they removed a lot of the flexibility many sets have to make them look good, or at least look better. And while it is 4K, there is no HDR support whatsoever. For TVs this size, HDR is arguably more important than 4K.

 

Conclusion

This same set is on sale with two different badges on it, some from Element and some from Westinghouse. We can clearly envision a future where there’s an Amazon Basics branded version as well. But to get there, the set will need to come way down in price. The interface is great, but the TV itself is nothing special. And for the price, there are several better options available, some even have Roku built in. But as more FireTV sets come to market, hopefully we’ll see some that are great televions as well as some selling for ridiculous deals. But for now, your options are limited. Of course, there’s always the FireTV stick you can plug into any TV to convert it into a FireTV set.


 

 

 

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