Amazon releases Amazon Fire TV media streaming device

Rick Otto

The media streaming market just heated up today.  Apple's AppleTV early on started as a "hobby" but in the past year sales have increased moving it beyond the hobby market.  Roku was an early player in this market and also Google recently entered this market with the Chromecast device.  Also, many of the devices such as the Xbox and Playstation game machines have moved more and more into the streaming market.  Now today Amazon just entered this market.

Amazon today introduced their streaming media player.  It's called the Fire TV and can be purchased directly on Amazon.  It is priced at $99, same as the AppleTV. Many rumors saw it as simply a box to use Amazon Prime Instant Video.  There were also rumors of Amazon developing a gaming controller so there was the possiblity that it would be more than this or a separate device.  Turns out it is much more than a simple Amazon Prime Instant Video streamer.

The hardware for this device is very impressive.  Like many other devices in this market it connects to your HDTV and it streams 1080p video. The device includes a 1.7 Ghz Qualcomm Krait 300 quad-core processor, a dedicated Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU, and 2GB of memory.  For audio it offers Dolby Digital Plus surround sound up to 7.1 and 2 channel stereo via HDMI or Digital optical audio.  It offers 8GB of internal storage which is complimented by Amazon's cloud storage.  It measures 4.5" x 4.5" x 0.7" and weighs only 9.9 oz.  It has 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO) and also Bluetooth 4.0 support.  The includes ports are a USB 2.0 Type A port, 10/100 Ethernet port, Optical Audio port, Type A HDMI 1.4b port, and a 5.5mm DC Jack. 

On the software end it's sure to impress.  The box can be controlled by simply talking to it.  The voice search feature allows you to simply say the name of what you want to watch and within seconds the Fire TV begins streaming it.  As expected it streams Amazon Prime Instant Video which is part of Amazon's Prime membership service. Yet if you're not a Prime subscriber you're not left out in the cold.  The device includes many of the popular streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Because of them being heavy competitors to Apple's own streaming service this move was not expected.  It also includes others such as Crackle, Flixter, YouTube, Vimeo, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, WatchESPN, Bloomberg TV, HuffPost Live, Vevo, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, and Pandora.  This means that in addition to movies, tv shows, news, and sports, you can also watch music videos on Vevo or simply listen to music on Pandora, TuneIn, or iHeart Radio.     The device is also much more than a simple media streaming device.  It will offer the ability to play games.  Many games are free and paid games start at 99 cents and it'll play games such as Minecraft-Pocket Edition.  There are currently over 100 games available with thousands more on the way.  Due to it also being a game console there is the availability of a game controller.  The controller isn't included with the console and is sold separately.  Amazon also sells MP3's and has the Cloud Player apps for desktop computers and mobile devices.  This service is built into the Fire TV allowing you to access your entire Amazon MP3 library.  If you save your photos on Amazon's cloud service you can also view any of your photos or videos you've saved to the cloud. 

The device also includes some other features providing ease of use and tools for parents.  It includes a feature called ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) that is able to predict what movies and TV episodes you like.  The device will start buffering them for playback so if you choose to play them it'll start nearly instantaneously.  The mic is built into the remote so as long as you're near the remote which will likely be the case it should easily pick up your voice.  A feature that's arriving soon is FreeTime.  The service will allow parents to limit screen time and also will allow for the creation of personalized profiles for kids.  It also has the ability to mirror the display of your Kindle Fire HDX tablet onto your big screen.  This is similar to what Apple offers with AirPlay where users can stream their iPad or iPhone screen onto an AppleTV. 

Amazon shows a comparison on their website to other streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku 3.  One item they point out is it's the only device that supports a game controller.  The Roku 3 is the only other in the comparison that supports games.  Also, the Roku 3 and Fire TV are the only two that don't require line of sight to use the remote.  This is due to the Fire TV Remote using Bluetooth.  This is a nice feature but the downside is that many 3rd party universal remotes won't work with the streamer.  When it comes to memory the Fire TV comes out ahead with 2GB of memory where the other 3 devices only have 512MB.  Also, it has a quad-core processor where the Roku 3 is Dual-Core and the Chromecast and Apple TV are single-core.  The Fire TV and the Apple TV are the only two to have an optical audio-out connector.  All 4 devices support HDMI video out at up to 1080P but the Fire TV is the only product to support Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.  The Fire TV is also the only media streamer to feature voice search.

Amazon didn't make a comparison to other game consoles.  Yet I think it's important to make that comparison.  Many game consoles such as the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and the Sony PS3 and PS4 offer many apps for streaming music and video.  Many of these are included on the Fire TV.  If you're interested in a game console mostly for the streaming media a device such as this will likely do most if not all of what you need and for a lower price.  Yet if gaming is your thing a lot will come down to if you're a hardcore gamer.  Hardcore gamers will still prefer a game consoles such as an Xbox or Playstation.  The games on this device are closer to what you'd see on a tablet or even smartphone.  The main difference is the larger screen and surround sound.  These are the type of games that may keep many of the non-hardcore gamers happy and the game prices are far lower than standard console games.  Some games will work with the remote but those same games will also work with the Amazon Fire Game controller that is available from Amazon for $39.99.  Also, the more advanced games will only work with the game controller.   The game controller is also connected via bluetooth eliminating the need for line of sight.  It uses AA batteries and works for up to 55 hours on a set of batteries.  There's also an Amazon GameCircle button to use GameCircle for leaderboards and achievements, similar to what Apple has with Game Center.  The Game Controller also can be used as a remote control for the Fire TV. 

At this time many people may not realize that Amazon offers a cloud-based storage solution.  It's similar to what Google offers with Google Drive and Apple with iCloud.  With a device such as this I believe more people will begin using Amazon's cloud storage solution for their media.  It'll allow users to share their content among their Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and then the Fire TV when they want it on the big screen or through surround sound speakers for premium sound.  The content can also be accessed via apps on desktop computers, both Mac and Windows, and also Android and iOS mobile devices including both smartphones and tablets.  Apple has done a lot to get people into their ecosystem with iTunes and iCloud.  Google is doing the same with their various Google Play services.  A media streaming box for the living room now completes the same ecosystem for Amazon.  Also, the device is very easy to use.  You can purchase it directly on Amazon under your account and then it's pre-registered to your Amazon account.

This addition to the market will surely heat things up.  It helps that it comes from a large company such as Amazon that already has moved heavily into digital media.  Chromecast is selling very well and is priced lower but is not a complete set-top box solution like the others.  Roku was one of the first in this market and has been highly successful.  Yet Apple is doing well with their AppleTV.  Rumors are an AppleTV is on the way that I believe will bring it closer to Amazon's offering.  Game consoles are also a competitor though so the competition is strong.  Yet I believe this is a device that will suit many people and at a competitive price.  It's especially useful for those who have a Kindle Fire and purchase their content through Amazon.  Competition is a good thing and will likely lead to major improvements to the products from the other companies.

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