The latest addition to Amazon's range of Fire TV streaming devices is an interesting one, given that it isn't a streaming device at all. The Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition is, as the name suggests, a soundbar, but it's one that's been designed to specifically integrate within the Fire TV platform and make use of its Alexa capabilities, too.
Announced at IFA 2019, the Nebula Soundbar joins the ranks of the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Amazon Fire TV Cube, and Amazon Fire TV Edition televisions, rounding out a fully-packed home entertainment range for the first time. Priced at $229 / £179 (around AU$340), the Nebula is set for initial release in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany on November 21.
Amazon isn't the not the only company announcing new audio products out of the blue, as Roku has also announced its own soundbar designed to work with the Roku TV interface. But for those in the Amazon ecosystem looking to boost their television's audio performance without needing to pick up a standalone Fire TV Stick, will the Nebula soundbar do the job?
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Design and features
The Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition is pretty straightforward in terms of its external design. It features a gray mesh around the front, top, and back, with a small red logo on the left-front side reminding you of the Nebula branding.
The Amazon heritage is a bit less prominent here – possibly because there are only so many Amazon logos one person would want to see strewn across their connected home.
On the top of the soundbar are general control buttons: power, source input (i.e. Bluetooth, HDMI, or otherwise), and volume up/down. The panel here is a sleek, reflective silver that stands out well from the basic gray of the rest of the Nebula soundbar.
At the back of the soundbar – far enough down that you'll need to lift it up to reach the connections – are a small number of ports for HDMI, power, AUX, and USB. That's not quite enough to make the Nebula Soundbar a real AV hub, but it's clearly designed to use specifically with your smart TV. You'll undoubtedly need to connect to the TV with an HDMI cable to get the Fire TV platform up and running.
We're told the Nebula Soundbar features a near-field microphone for using voice commands, as well as an Alexa remote for navigating the Fire TV smart platform / using a microphone right up near your face.
The Fire TV platform is fast and effective, even if it's designed to push the Amazon Prime Video service above others. The Alexa voice control, too, will work primarily within this TV streaming service, and it isn't perfect even there. Voice navigation for smart TVs is simply not that good right now, so we'd say don't buy into the hype, but you will be able to use some basic voice functionality to summon specific streaming apps and TV shows to your screen.
But what of the sound? The drivers themselves come courtesy of Anker – the electronics company behind the Anker Soundcore Motion+ portable speaker, and the Soundcore Wakey bedside speaker (yes, that's actually what it's called).
We have more faith in the audio from Anker than, say, the standard Amazon Echo, and you'd hope for that with a dedicated soundbar. It's hard to say without having tested the audio ourselves, but we do know the Nebula is a 2.1 channel speaker, meaning you get two drivers belting the highs and mids in stereo, with an additional subwoofer channeling the bass.
There's no Dolby Atmos support, so you won't get surround sound-quality audio – though you should be able to get up connect with other Echo speakers should you wish to spread the noise around the room.
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It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to release a soundbar alongside their other Fire TV devices, and sees their range of TV accessories (and Alexa smart TVs) come full circle to the company's entries in smart speakers and home audio.
Integrating the Fire TV platform into a soundbar seems a smart move too, making for an all-in-one product that doesn't require a separate streaming stick and TV speaker for the amount of functionality bundled in.
We'll have to reserve judgement until we can test out the audio capabilities ourself, but it's likely we'll be seeing a lot more of Amazon's soundbars going forward.
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