Speculation had ramped up for weeks, and an invitation to an update on its video business set for today in New York only threw gasoline on the fire.
Would the company announce a set-top streaming device like Apple’s (AAPL) Apple TV, an HDMI plug-in streamer like the Google (GOOG) Chromecast? Might it be capable of playing Android video games on your TV? Would free Amazon Prime streaming video be involved?
Well, we got Amazon Fire TV. Here’s what it’s about:
Amazon Fire TV: It Does a LOT
After giving a shout out to video streaming leader Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu, and the huge growth they’ve helped drive in the streaming video market, Amazon highlighted the downside of current streaming devices. Difficulties in searching for content, for example. Apple TV was specifically criticized for this.
Closed ecosystems were also called out — a little gutsy considering Amazon’s proprietary Kindle e-book format and lack of support for Google Play on its Kindle Fire tablets…
Amazon’s response to all these issues is the Amazon Fire TV.
Yes, it’s a set-top box (a bit larger than an Apple TV, but much thinner). The space is needed. After all, Amazon Fire TV packs…
- A quad-core processor
- A dedicated GPU
- 2 GB of RAM
- Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi for faster streaming
Fire TV also offers 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.
AMZN is claiming that the Amazon Fire TV is three time more powerful than the Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast. It uses a Bluetooth remote, but that remote includes a microphone optimized for voice search.
Amazon Fire TV also uses predictive logic during viewing (a feature Amazon calls Advanced Streaming and Predicting, or ASAP) to queue up content you’re likely to watch next for faster access.
It supports Hulu and Netflix now, while Amazon says additional video partners will be added. Screenshots of the Amazon Fire TV user interface on display showed YouTube, TED, Crackle and Disney (DIS) apps, among others, although AMZN has not confirmed these.
Naturally, Amazon Fire TV owners have access to 200,000 Amazon Instant Video titles for purchase or rent and Prime Instant Video access.
There’s a music library as well, with support for using an X-Ray for Music feature that displays lyrics on the TV.
The Amazon Fire TV also offers solid parental controls with support for Amazon’s FreeTime; in this case, it allows parents to set viewing time limits, control content that kids can watch and enables children to search not just by title, but also by topic.
In another shot at Apple, the Amazon Kindle Fire was shown using personal photos as a screensaver (a la Apple TV), with those photos automatically backed up from an iPhone 5s and made available to the set-top box using Amazon’s Cloud Drive app.
Finally, AMZN confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in the tech world.
Amazon Fire TV Is Also a Game Console
All that horsepower, as it turns out, is not being wasted on just streaming video and responding to voice commands.
Game developers including Electronic Arts (EA) have signed on to port games to Amazon Fire TV, and AMZN says there will be “thousands” of titles available by next month. Yes, it uses that Amazon game controller that’s been showing up in spy photos, which is $39.99 extra.
AMZN also is launching its own game development studio, Amazon Game Studios, mirroring its move into developing its own video content. Games start at 99 cents.
Amazon didn’t specifically say these are Android games, but mentioned other people can play along on their tablets, so that pretty much confirms the games are based on its Fire OS Android version.
The price? $99.
Apple’s Apple TV is due for a refresh, and you can bet Amazon Fire TV is going to light a fire under AAPL to get a more powerful, more capable version out the door — ideally one that takes advantage of its huge iOS game library.
At least Amazon Fire TV isn’t a dongle like the Chromecast or the new Roku Streaming Stick, saving Apple from being the final set-top box form factor holdout.
But it’s going to be a tough act to follow.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.