Video calls on an Amazon TV? Yes! I tried it and here’s how it went

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Here's the Zoom app interface on the Amazon Fire TV Omni Series.Here's the Zoom app interface on the Amazon Fire TV Omni Series.

Wait, Zoom on a TV? Yep, just plug a compatible webcam into one of Amazon’s Fire TV Omni Series models. (Photo: Amazon)

For many of us, Zoom calls aren’t just a novelty; they’re a necessity. We rely on them for work meetings, family gatherings, live-streamed events and so on. But whatever the application, you’ve probably discovered that small-screen calls aren’t ideal. On a phone, talking heads look downright tiny. A tablet or laptop screen can feel cramped, too, especially if there are lots of participants.

So why not leverage a really big screen, like a TV? Simple: Most TVs don’t do Zoom. Enter Amazon’s Omni Series, which was recently updated to work with the Zoom app. I tested the 50-inch model to see if couch-based video calls are all they’re cracked up to be, but this is also an Amazon Fire TV review: How does it fare against other budget models?

One thing is certain: It’s very budget-friendly. The Omni Series 50-inch has a list price of $510, but at this writing, it’s on sale for $365. And discounts are extremely common for this model, so you should never pay full price for it.

$365 $510 at Amazon

Let’s start with the TV itself. Like all screens that have Amazon’s Fire TV interface baked in, the Omni Series not only streams all the major services — Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. — but also supports apps and games. (Check out some of the Jackbox party games; they’re a blast.)

But here you also get hands-free Alexa, a feature I quickly grew to love. Without so much as touching the remote, you can tell the TV to turn itself on or off, raise the volume, play “Atypical” on Netflix, show your Ring doorbell video feed, dim the lights, start a Zoom call and much more.

Plus, you have the option to wirelessly pair any Echo speakers you might have, a pretty cool way to expand your sound system. And the Omni Series now supports Apple AirPlay as well, meaning you can mirror content from your Apple devices.

This is the Fire TV screen, which honestly isn't very intuitive.This is the Fire TV screen, which honestly isn't very intuitive.

You don’t even have to touch the remote to use Amazon’s Fire TV Omni Series, which supports hands-free Alexa operation. (Photo: Amazon)

Of course, image quality is arguably the most important aspect of any TV, and I found the Omni Series to be sharp, bright and colorful. Does the picture rival that of pricier models from the likes of Samsung and LG? It does not. Will most users find it satisfactory, if not genuinely good? I think so; the TV earned a 4.5-star average rating from over 1,500 buyers.

My main complaint is with the Fire TV interface, which remains a mixed bag. It’s not super-intuitive or easy to customize, but it’s more versatile than Roku (see: apps and games) and great at fielding voice commands. I frequently found myself struggling to find the app I wanted — but then I remembered I could just ask Alexa to open it.

Amazon Fire TV Omni Series: How is it for Zoom calls?

Although Amazon says the TV should recognize “any compatible webcam,” the recommended models are Logitech’s C920, C922x and C310. I happened to have one of these on hand, and sure enough, when I plugged it in the TV immediately detected it. An onscreen message indicated relevant settings I might need to adjust, which I appreciated.

It was easy enough to install the Zoom app (“Alexa, install Zoom”) and sign into my account, though it’s no fun using the remote to navigate the onscreen keyboard. I recommend installing the Fire TV app on your phone; it affords a “real” keyboard, which makes entering credentials — such as Zoom meeting IDs and passwords — much less tedious.

These two ladies need to sit pretty close to their TVs for a Zoom call to really be effective.These two ladies need to sit pretty close to their TVs for a Zoom call to really be effective.

These two ladies need to sit pretty close to their TVs for a Zoom call to really be effective. (Photo: Amazon)

And you’ll need to do that whenever you want to join a meeting. However, if you connect your Zoom account to your calendar, and you’ve got meetings on that calendar, the Zoom app will import them. Now you can join one just by selecting it.

Here’s the good news: A TV is indeed a great way to consume a Zoom meeting, for the simple reason that bigger is always better. However, note that I said “consume” — if you’re an active meeting participant and you’re sitting on a couch across from the TV, that puts you pretty far away from the camera. Others on the call won’t be able to see you well, not unless you move much closer.

Indeed, consider the difference between sitting a foot away from a laptop camera and sitting maybe 10 feet from a webcam. This is fine if you just need to watch what’s being presented. But if you’re the presenter, or you just want to make sure you’re seen, this kind of setup is less than ideal.

Amazon Fire TV Omni Series: Worth buying?

There’s a lot to like about this TV, which is also available in 43-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch sizes. (The latter two add Dolby Vision to the mix, just FYI.) I think most viewers will find the picture quality to be very respectable, especially those upgrading from a 1080p TV. Hands-free Alexa is fantastic, and the Zoom option is nice to have — though I wouldn’t necessarily buy the Omni Series just for that.

Indeed, if you’re interested in adding Zoom capabilities to an existing TV, check out the Facebook Portal TV. Currently selling for $99 (down from $149), this plug-in camera offers a much higher resolution (12 megapixels) than any webcam, meaning you’ll look much sharper to others. It supports not only Zoom, but also Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. And it features a pan-and-zoom camera designed to help keep you in the frame. As an added bonus, it doubles as a streamer box, too: Netflix, Hulu, etc.

If you do decide to choose the Omni Series for your next TV, be sure to wait for a sale. That happens with almost clockwork regularity.

$365 $510 at Amazon

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