They’ve conquered online shopping, revolutionized digital reading, rivalled iTunes, taken on Netflix and have even thrown their hat into the tablet ring, and now Amazon is prepared to attack another lucrative market — streaming devices. It’s a crowded place already, with Roku, Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV some notable standouts, but Amazon clearly feels they have enough to offer their customers with the Fire TV.
The actual hardware itself is as inoffensive as they come. A diminutive black box, it comes with an HDMI port, optical audio out, ethernet, a single USB slot and Amazon’s ever present logo on top. It’s just 4.5-inches in both directions and less than an inch deep. Inside, it’s more like a high-end Android smartphone than a low-powered streaming device, with a quad-core Snapdragon processor and 2GB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory for storing content on. Dual-band WiFi is here, as is Bluetooth 4.0, and the Fire TV can output video at up to 1080p. A single remote is included, which uses Bluetooth to connect to the box so that line of sight isn’t required for operation. The featherweight remote also comes with dual microphones built in. Why? Because voice search is a core feature of Fire TV, natch.
If pressing buttons to navigate content is too much of a chore, just shout whatever you wish for into the remote and Amazon’s servers will tell the Fire TV what to display. Search for TV shows, movies, a specific director or actor or just specify a vague genre — Fire TV will do its best to find what you’re looking for.
It’s got a wealth of content to search through, too. Amazon is boasting over 200,000 TV episodes and films to stream to the device, with Amazon Prime Instant Video offering free, on-demand streaming and a host of Amazon Originals shows — yes, just like Netflix. For those addicted to the latter company, though, Amazon is allowing a Netflix app onto the device, along with several others including Hulu Plus, Pandora, Vimeo, Showtime Anytime and Huffpost Live. Of course, because the Fire TV runs a version of Android, porting existing apps from the estimated 1 million apps in Google’s Play store should be easy.
The user experience is as painless and visual as possible, with big images and easy-to-read text, while the grunt under the hood should keep the whole thing as smooth and fluid as possible. That fluidity would be somewhat ruined if videos took ages to launch, but Amazon’s ASAP system — Advanced Streaming and Prediction — will learn what you like and have several options ready to stream before you select them. That extra power is also being used for another purpose: gaming. Amazon is selling a $40 controller, which will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Xbox that will allow for light, console-style gaming on the streaming box. EA, Disney, Ubisoft and Mojang are all onboard, with 100 titles available to play at launch. Don’t expect eye-popping graphics — these are all based on smartphone games — but with titles like Minecraft and Sev Zero, Amazon could have a low-cost alternative to the current batch of home consoles.
Music streaming is catered for with several options. Amazon’s MP3 service is obviously here, but other streaming contenders such as iHeart Radio, Vevo and Pandora are onboard. Music can even be played in the background while you browse through photos stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive or play games, which is a nice touch.
If the Fire TV sounds like it could be your ideal streaming device, you’ll be glad to know that it’s available right now. For $99, Amazon’s take on a set-top streaming device can be all yours. Just like Gary Busey, below.