Amazon has launched its own Apple TV/Chromecast/Roku-style gadget, the Fire TV. It’s got a few nice touches, but nothing that stands out as a killer feature in an increasingly-crowded market.
The $99 box is 4.5″ square and 0.7″ thick and comes with both HDMI and optical audio connections, plus Ethernet and Wi-Fi and a USB slot. It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, which compares favorably with similar devices.
It also has a simple Bluetooth remote which includes a microphone for voice search. Amazon is making a big deal about the idea that this is a “voice search that actually works” and early reviews suggest this is the case.
The device has access to all the usual TV apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and of course Amazon Instant Video. The main omission at the moment is HBO Go. It also accesses several streaming music services, along with any MP3 tracks you’ve bought through Amazon. It doesn’t appear you can stream content from a computer or media server.
If you have a Kindle Fire HDX you can “fling” video or audio from the tablet to your TV screen. An associated app will even tell you what music is playing at a particular point in the movie, or identify actors as they appear on screen for the first time, immediately settling the question “where do I know that guy from?”
One neat-looking feature is that the box doesn’t just use a recommendation service to figure out which shows or movies you might like to watch next, but it caches some of the content so that you can start watching immediately without any buffering. How useful that is depends on how accurate the recommendations are.
Every buyer gets a 30 day free trial of Amazon Prime. As with Kindles, the device ships pre-registered to your Amazon account and any video purchases or rentals you make through the box are charged to your account.
The device supports gaming, though it’s mainly going to be casual, tablet-style games priced at less than two bucks. You can use the supplied remote or buy a specialised gaming controller for $40. Amazon isn’t overhyping this feature and has specifically said Fire TV “is not a games console.”
Altogether, it seems like a pretty solid offering and one that could definitely serve as a single-box streaming entertainment solution for people who aren’t dedicated gamers. If you don’t already have any similar gadgets or games consoles, it could be a great solution.
The problem, however, is whether there are enough people minded to buy a streaming video gadget who don’t already own devices that make the Fire TV at least partially redundant.