The ecommerce giant Amazon has delved even further into the hardware space with the launch of a long-rumored streaming media device called the Amazon Fire TV. It said that it has watched these devices sell on its platform for a long time now, so it knows what is and isn't working for customers, hence its decision to try to do this better than anyone else out there, by "invent[ing] and simplify[ing]."
Their approach was to try to make "complexity disappear," hence the Amazon Fire TV, a sleek, tiny black box for your home theater. The console runs a special OS, and has a quad-core processor, which Amazon calls best-in-class for the category. It has 2GB of RAM, which is between twice and four times that of others on the market, and it has dual-band Wi-Fi for speedy networking. It's a little less thick than a dime is tall, and has an interface that somewhat resembles Plex, if you're familiar with that media software.
The remote it comes with is around the height of a piece of popcorn, and features seven buttons plus a click wheel navigator. When you press play, content starts playing back immediately - gthere's no waiting. Categories display content, watchlist, access, your video library, movies, TV, games, apps and photos, with settings residing in the main home screen. The immediate playback is actually a huge difference vs. others in this space, which all require some buffering.
The platform is HTML and Android-based, which makes it easy for devs to port their apps over from both the web and Google's mobile OS. Amazon says it will boost the Fire TV with original content from Amazon Studios, too.
Media streaming is an increasingly important space to Amazon, who has been focusing in on their video offerings. Not only does Amazon have its own Instant Video offering, competing with Netflix and Hulu and others, but it also develops it's own original content from Amazon Studios. In both cases, taking control of the living room is the only way to build up Instant Video loyalists, whether they're hunting down original content or just browsing through the library.
Amazon also took time to trash each of its competitors, citing problems like poor search on Roku, difficult text entry on Apple TV, and laggy performance in terms of loading content and building up a cache. Also, the closed ecosystem of competitor platforms is something Amazon claims was giving users of existing devices headaches. Amazon Instant Video isn't available on Apple TV, the company noted, and Microsoft charges $60 per year just to access Netflix, which has its own separate monthly cost.
Netflix is a partner for Amazon at launch, as well as HBO GO, SHO Anytime, Pandora, Hulu, ESPN and many others to come. You can search for content via voice or text entry, and there's a mic on the remote itself for better detection of voice commands. Amazon threw some shade here, too, presumably at Microsoft for one, saying that its voice search "actually works," compared to that of some of its competitors.'search works by genre, title, actor, keyword, etc. and spans content sources.
Amazon has also added a photos app that plugs into CloudDrive to "seamlessly upload" your smartphone photos in the background and make them instantly available to view on Fire TV, which is a few step shorter than trying to do the same thing on other hardware, but comparable to Photo Stream on iOS/Apple TV.
A feature called X-ray, which is what Amazon calls its book supplemental info tool on Kindle, is available on Fire TV, making it possible for you to call up associated metadata for whatever you're watching, including release date, actors, directors and more on your Kindle Fire tablet, fi you have one and it's synced to the Fire TV. That's a built-in, native second screen experience which could prove very useful. X-ray will extend to music on the Fire TV coming next month, displaying lyrics.
Speaking of music, Amazon has a bunch of partners already, including Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Amazon's own music services. There's also a Free Time feature, which, like the version for Fire OS on Kindle tablets, locks down content to only stuff that's suitable for kids, and opens up more general searching for favorite characters and things like "dinosaurs" as a general category of interest. One of the Free Time options is called "Free Time Unlimited," and that'll offer "all you can eat" access to content from kids' broadcasters including Nickelodeon and others for a monthly fee.
Gaming on Fire TV is aiming to compete with consoles, which are too high-priced according to Amazon. The company also cited customer complaints around Apple TV gaming, going after that competitor directly. Amazon worked with games publishers including EA, Disney, Gameloft and others to craft a better gaming experience that would let users play "a wide variety of games." Big console devs, including Ubisoft and Take-Two, are also on board.
Users will have access to thousands of games as of next month, Amazon says, and will be able to us either the Fire TV remote control, smartphones and tablets via an app, and a new $40 Amazon-branded dedicated game controller that was spotted before in earlier leaks to play, depending on their needs. Amazon demoed the gaming capabilities of the Fire TV with Minecraft, a surprise first title.
The Fire TV is available today to buy in the U.S., with a price tag of $99, and a purchase also nets you a 30-day free trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
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