Amazon is giving its Prime members the ability to watch TV shows and movies on Prime Video with friends using its new Watch Party feature.
The feature is slowly rolling out, according to the company, and is only available in the US right now. Watch Parties will accommodate up to 100 viewers in one group, but each person must have a US-based Prime subscription. Once inside the Watch Party, people can choose from thousands of titles, according to Amazon, including originals and licensed shows and movies.
Anything from the service’s US streaming video on demand catalog is featured. This includes originals like Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Jack Ryan, The Big Sick, The Boys, Homecoming, and My Spy, as well as licensed titles available with an Amazon Prime Video subscription. Movies and TV shows available for rent or purchase, however, are not available to stream in Watch Party.
Watch Party hosts will oversee full synchronized playback controls and a chat feature to talk with all other guests. While Twitch, Amazon’s other streaming service, has a similar feature, those streams are open to the public. Anyone can join a creator’s viewing session as long as they have a Prime account. Prime Video’s new Watch Party feature is entirely private. The host will share a link with family members and friends for people to click and join, similar to Zoom.
Prime Video is the most recent major streamer to get in on virtual viewing parties. WarnerMedia, Disney, and Netflix partnered with Scener so subscribers to HBO, Disney Plus, and Netflix can watch things together. Right now, Prime Video Watch Parties are only for desktop use. Amazon did not say if a mobile version is on the way.
Update June 29th, 6:45pm ET: The story has been updated to include additional information about what titles can be streamed.
First Crucible, now New World: Amazon delays another tentpole game after early feedback
Amazon has delayed its upcoming open-world MMO New World, one of two tentpole games from its burgeoning games studio, from August 25th to an undefined spring 2021 date. The announcement comes less than two weeks after Amazon brought its other tentpole game, the free-to-play shooter Crucible, back into closed beta following barely a month of wide availability. It sounds like Amazon may be taking a more cautious approach to game development after early feedback from testers that the games weren’t quite what they hoped.
The New World team wants to add “more features and content before we share it with a wider audience,” including “plenty of middle and endgame experiences,” studio director Rich Lawrence said in a blog post that was also shared on Twitter. “We want our players to feel completely immersed in the game, and know that our studio stands for quality and lasting gameplay you can trust — and that means added time to get things where we want them before we fully release.”
Though most of us will have to wait until next year to try New World, there’s still an early access opportunity: if you signed up for the beta on or before July 9th, already preordered the game, or are a current alpha tester “in good standing,” you’ll be able to participate in a “first-hand look at New World” beginning on the game’s previously scheduled launch date, August 25th, according to an FAQ on the New World website.
If you get access to that first look, you’ll be able to play the game “in its current state” and for “a limited period of time,” according to Lawrence.
New World’s delay (which is the game’s second) leaves Amazon Games with just one other title that might be releasing in the near term: Pac-Man Live Studio, a new version of Pac-Man that you’ll be able to play directly on Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. Bandai Namco and Amazon Games announced in May that the game would be available in June, but it’s still not out yet, and the game’s website now says that it’s “coming soon.”
And we’re also not sure when Crucible will be widely available again now that it has returned to closed beta. That game, which mixes pieces of mobile online battle arenas (MOBA) and hero shooters, originally launched in late May. But in early June, Amazon pulled two of the game’s three modes, leaving only its MOBA-inspired mode, and then returned the released game to closed beta on July 1st to make more improvements.
In June 2019, Amazon laid off “dozens” of developers from Amazon Games as part of a reorganization. And in 2018, it canceled fantasy sports game Breakaway, another tentpole title, which Amazon first announced in 2016 but took back to the drawing board in October 2017 before outright canceling it.
Everything you need to stream TV
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We live in the era of streaming entertainment, and it’s easier than ever to start watching whatever new Netflix, Prime Video, or Hulu show that your friends and co-workers are raving about. No matter if you’re looking for movies, sports, live TV, or anything else, you can probably stream it, and that’s why consumers have continued to flee traditional cable and satellite TV in recent years — even now when we’re all spending the bulk of our time at home.
With movies that were intended for theaters now premiering first in the living room, this is as good a time as any to make sure you’ve got everything you need for a good streaming experience. Thankfully, it doesn’t involve spending a ton of money.
Your TV might be all you need
Pretty much any TV you buy nowadays will offer the ability to download and install a plethora of streaming apps. Some might come with the essentials — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. — preloaded onto the TV, but whether you’re purchasing a Samsung, LG, Sony, or one of many Roku TVs, there’ll be a way to find other apps you might want.
If you get a Vizio TV, then things work a bit differently. Those TVs come bundled with a number of popular apps (including Disney Plus), but if what you’re looking for isn’t there, you’ll have to stream content from phone apps to the TV using the built-in Chromecast and Apple AirPlay features that Vizio offers. There’s no way to download other apps onto the TV itself beyond those that come preloaded.
Choosing a streaming device
If you’re not satisfied with the software experience on your TV, then it might make sense to purchase a standalone streaming box (or stick). One advantage to doing so is that apps are often supported longer and updated more frequently on a Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, or Android TV streaming gadget than they are on individual TVs. With tens of millions of people using these products, there’s a bigger incentive for companies like Netflix and HBO to keep their apps up to date with the latest features.
If all you’re looking to do is stream video content, the $39.99 Roku Streaming Stick Plus and $49.99 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K are both easy recommendations. They deliver fantastic-looking 4K HDR picture quality and come with easy-to-use remote controls that include voice search for when you’re on the couch and trying to decide on a pick for movie night. Both Roku and Amazon offer a vast selection of third-party streaming apps, from popular must-have services to more niche options. If you want entertainment and nothing more, that’s the answer.
If you’re willing to spend a bit extra, you can get players that come with unique features. For example, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube combines the features of the aforementioned Fire TV Stick with a tiny Echo speaker, giving you the ability to control your TV and start playing a video using only your voice. Even when the TV is off, you can ask Alexa for the weather or your calendar appointments as you would with other Echo devices. The Fire TV Cube is able to control some soundbars, cable boxes, and A/V receivers in addition to your TV, so you can think of it as a sort of universal remote that’s powered by your voice. (A remote does come in the box if you prefer the more traditional route.)
If you want to stream over-the-air TV
Amazon also tries to appeal to advanced cord-cutters with devices like the Fire TV Recast, which lets you record over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts if you’ve got the requisite antenna plugged into your television. You can also watch these OTA live streams remotely from anywhere with your smartphone. So if you’re running late getting home to watch your favorite show on one of the big broadcast networks, you can tune in wherever you are.
The TiVo Bolt OTA is another of these DVRs that can improve the experience of watching TV over an antenna connection. Plus, you get all of the usual TiVo tricks like skipping commercials when you watch a recorded show, movie, or sports game. And the Bolt OTA is itself a streaming device that includes apps like Netflix and Hulu.
You can get an HD antenna for around $40; there are many on Amazon like the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse that should do the job just fine. These antennas allow you to watch live programming (in high definition) from local broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC for free. Depending on where you live, not all channels will have the same signal strength. The Federal Communications Commission has this helpful website where you can enter your location and see which networks you’ll get best with an antenna in your area.
By the way, most streaming players typically include an HDMI cable in the box, but if you need a spare, never get suckered into paying more than $20 for one depending on the length you want.
Choosing what to watch
Buying a streaming device is the easy part. We’re faced with more entertainment choices than ever before from Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, and other apps — including live TV subscription services like Sling TV and YouTube TV — and the monthly charges can pile up quickly if you’re not careful.
Thankfully, we’ve got a handy streaming guide for choosing which paid apps might be the best fit for your personal taste.
Logitech is already giving up on its Alexa-powered Harmony remote control
Logitech’s Harmony brand tried to reinvent the wheel with its Harmony Express remote control, and it didn’t work. The company just sent out an email to customers alerting them that the $250 remote — which used Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant as the brains for controlling your various home theater components — will cease functioning after September 30th. It will be fully cut off from both the Harmony and Alexa clouds, according to this FAQ. Ouch.
The Harmony Express was only introduced in April 2019, so that’s a pretty short lifespan for what was positioned as a significant product for the company. Retailers, including Amazon and Best Buy, have already ceased sales of the device, which clearly didn’t take off in the way Logitech envisioned. The company is taking some measures to help customers who took a chance and bought the Express, so read on for details on that.
“With Alexa Built-In, Harmony Express aimed to replace the complexity of the touch screens and programmable buttons found on other Harmony remotes with a simple voice interface,” Harmony wrote in its email to customers. “Unfortunately, our expectations were not met for this kind of Harmony remote, and as a result we’ve decided to focus our efforts on our core user experience: powerful universal remote control in a world with many devices connected to the TV.”
Logitech tried to create a voice-powered, convenience-focused remote for its loyal home theater enthusiast customer base, and the idea was widely rejected. And now the Harmony Express is another bruising reminder of how quickly cloud-based gadgets can turn into a useless hunk of plastic.
To soften the blow of the very abrupt discontinuation, Logitech says it will swap anyone’s Harmony Express remote for a Harmony Elite for free. “Harmony Elite is our flagship experience featuring a powerful programmable controller for AV and smart home control that works with other Amazon Alexa devices to enable voice control.”
But if that’s not good enough, the company is also willing to provide full refunds to anyone who can provide proof of purchase of their Harmony Express device. Refunds are handled through TransferWise.com and are estimated to take around five days after you provide that receipt.
Customers have until December 31st to request either the exchange for the Harmony Elite or a full refund, and Logitech says owners of the product will continue receiving notifications and emails about the September 30th cutoff over the next few weeks.
If you dared to purchase the Harmony Express, you can go here for all of the details on the exchange / refund process.
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