If you’ve ever been lost inside the Game of Thrones books, or had trouble keeping straight the Boromirs, Faramirs, and Beregonds of Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, you’ll understand the value of Amazon’s X-Ray feature. On Kindle, you just long-press on a name or place to quickly figure out their place in the story—who they are, who they’re related to, who they’re sleeping with on the side. On Kindle Fire tablets, that’s also been extended to movies and TV shows. There, X-Ray is the quickest way ever to the answer to that most important of life’s questions: Where do I know that guy from?
Now, Amazon’s bringing the feature to your television, or at least to your Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. After you install the free over-the-air update to your streaming box, as long as you’re watching an Amazon movie, all you have to do is press pause or click up on the remote and you’ll get quick information about whatever you’re watching. Who’s on screen right now? What’s the actor’s name? What’s the song playing in the background? What movie am I watching, again? All of X-Ray’s data comes from IMDB (which Amazon owns), and is amazingly rich. There’s even a “Trivia” tab, which is loaded with weird and arcane information about your favorite cult hit.
Amazon puts a lot of time and energy into X-Ray across all platforms. Its computers can do some of the identification and time-coding, but every movie or TV show has some human touch as well—that’s why there are only about 100 titles a week added to X-Ray. It’s a lot of work for an ostensibly small feature, but Amazon sees it as a differentiator. As streaming services proliferate, their libraries can begin to look similar. There are a half-dozen places to watch the newly digitized Star Wars movies, from Netflix to iTunes, and they’re the same epics no matter where you buy—the power of X-Ray is Amazon’s most compelling bid to be the place you spend your $20.
It might not be good enough to make you spend $99 on a Fire TV, but when you’re looking for a place to watch Pitch Perfect again, it’s a tiebreaker in Amazon’s favor. On one hand, it’s great for quickly looking something or someone up. (Yes, it is McLovin.) And thanks to all the time-coding of characters, music, and scenes, Amazon has essentially improved upon the scene selector your DVDs used to have—you can flip to any moment you want, or even jump straight to “Let It Go” the ten-thousandth time your kid wants to watch Frozen. There’s serious rabbit-hole potential, too: it’s way too easy to go from “who’s that?” to “What else is she in?” to “Wait she’s in THAT?” Suddenly you’re watching a movie completely unlike what you’d planned.
Using X-Ray on a TV is different from a tablet, though. It interrupts (and pauses) whatever you’re watching, fully taking over the screen when you look for anything more than the actors on the screen. It’s not a constant study aid, so much as a periodic catch-up. It’s a great way to kill a couple of minutes while someone’s in the bathroom or went to grab food, though. And look: If Amazon can making pausing a video a fun experience, well, it may have just solved television.