After months of speculation, yesterday Amazon finally announced its plans for a set-top box designed to stream Amazon Prime video. At its living-room-themed press event in New York, the Seattle company unveiled its plans for its very own $99 (£59) Android-based set-top box called the Fire TV. And it starts shipping immediately over in the US.
This box is incredibly powerful – supposedly three times the power of the Apple TV. The Fire TV sports a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a dedicated GPU. This is a tiny little powerhouse. While we're not sure exactly what's powering the Fire TV, our own Sebastian Anthony suspects that it might be running on a quad-core Snapdragon with an Adreno 320 GPU.
The tiny remote included with this set-top box has seven discreet buttons and a five-way selection interface in the middle. It looks fine, but it lacks the beautiful simplicity of the Apple TV's remote. Design is not Amazon's strong suit, but the voice search seems solid. There's no need to yell across the room for voice recognition since the controller itself has a built-in mic. It's a clever decision, and one that Microsoft could take a cue from with the Xbox One.
Amazon is clearly focused on speed and usability with the Fire TV. The interface seems lightning-fast, a variety of video and audio apps are available, and the ability to use "X-Ray" on your Kindle Fire makes this box a must-have for anyone closely tied into the Amazon ecosystem. Kids will have their very own custom interface, and it's going to be configurable by the account owner. The software side of things is looking good.
With Amazon's increased focus on hardware (Kindle, Kindle Fire), video streaming (Amazon Prime), and gaming (Double Helix), this box has seemed like an inevitability for months now. We first started to hear rumblings last summer that Amazon was making a game console, and some conspicuous controller photos made their way around the net last month. Now, we know exactly what Amazon has up its sleeve.
Disney, Gameloft, EA, 2K Games, Sega, Ubisoft, Double Fine, and Telltale Games are all on board to develop games for the Fire TV. The device seems to be more than powerful enough for streaming video, but this isn't going to directly compete with the PS4 or Xbox One. The internals are that of a high-end smartphone or tablet – not a game console.
Bear in mind, the average price for paid games will be $1.85 (£1.10), so don't expect mind-blowing AAA experiences. This seems much more like the Ouya or Gamestick than a true competitor in the traditional gaming space.
As for the controller, it seems like last month's leaks were dead-on. It's essentially a clunky interpretation of an Xbox 360 controller with the addition of dedicated video control buttons at the bottom. It'll cost an additional $40 (£24), but I'm sceptical about how well this non-bundled peripheral will sell. Gaming certainly isn't the focus of this device.
The Fire TV seems like a very strong competitor to the aging Apple TV, but that's about it. The voice recognition and "X-Ray" support are nice, but there's nothing revolutionary or particularly notable about this product. The gaming aspect is completely tacked on, and the idea of playing more dolled-up Android games doesn't exactly get my juices flowing. I'm sure this $99 (£59) device will sell well for Amazon, but existing Roku and Apple TV owners certainly won't need to jump ship to the Fire TV when it makes its way over to the UK...