Amazon has kicked off its arrival to the streaming party with the announcement of a new $US100 device called Fire TV in the US. Here's everything you need to know about it.
Amazon used three pillars of what competitor devices like Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast do wrong -- search, performance/slow apps and a closed ecosystem -- to illustrate what Fire TV does right. Amazon's device is a box you plug into your TV that runs on an open Android ecosystem and comes with plenty of apps including Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Crackle and more. Unfortunately, it lacks HBO Go and Vudu, which is a damn shame. Regardless, customers can either buy or rent shows right on the menu. Everything about Fire TV seems to place emphasis on the word easy -- easy to use, easy to find stuff to watch and so on.
Fire TV is a little black box with a quad-core processor and its very own dedicated GPU. It has 2GB of RAM, Mimo dual-band Wi-Fi, which enables it to boast three times the speed of Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast. It supports 1080p streaming and includes Dolby digital surround sound out via HDMI out. It is insanely thin. It comes with a thin, sleek, small black remote that works via Bluetooth. You will probably lose this small remote.
The interface is pretty simple. It's a black, easy-to-read home screen where things like your watchlist, movies and TV shows and search are listed. And it moves quickly, at least in a demo. It features added convenience factors -- for example there's a feature called ASAP that, when you click the Play button on the remote, it starts playing your movie or whatever instantaneously. It also predicts what you want to watch. As if you needed another incentive to watch more TV.
Fire TV also has voice search. It works well on stage -- when the Amazon exec said "John Malcovich" into Fire TV's remote, Fire TV showed everything the actor has ever done insanely quickly, with integrated info from IMDB included. Now, previous efforts on voice search have not been so successful, and it seems to work well on stage, but it also remains to be seen whether it's something anyone actually wants.
Fire TV also streams photos from your phone to your TV, which is a nice feature but not a real differentiator from other streaming TV devices. In that same vein, Fire TV has a feature called X-ray, that works as a companion on your tablet or phone to tell you information from IMDB about the actors and movies you're seeing on screen. It's nice, and it makes sense considering it was already available on Kindle Fire tablets, but similar things also exist on Chromecast and Xbox.
But here's where things get kind of fun -- Fire TV moonlights as a karaoke machine. It displays lyrics right on your TV, so you can sing along badly to your heart's content (in the comfort of your own home).
Fire TV has a parental control mode called FreeTime. It lets parents pipe content into a special mode for kids, where they can do things like set time limits, have control over exactly what shows kids can watch, and avoid kids ever accidentally stumbling upon porn or something.
Fire TV doubles as a gaming device as well. By next month, Fire TV will have plenty of games from EA, Disney and other gaming studios. You can play games with your remote or with the app. Or you can also play with a dedicated remote that Amazon is selling for $US40, and you get 1000 Amazon coins along with it. It looks much like a regular old console controller. Minecraft, for example, is one of the titles coming to Fire TV next month. So is a cute little Monsters University game, as well as Asphalt Airborne 8, a racing game.
Amazon says games are pretty affordable -- there are more than 1000 free titles, with paid ones averaging under $US1.85 per title. The company is also going to be making its own games for Fire TV as well as Kindle Fire tablets. First up is a first-person shooter style game called Sev Zero, but the verdict is out as to whether Amazon's original games will be better than its original TV shows. Now, the games looks sharp and crisp on the screen. But the graphics are nowhere near Xbox-calibre. But they still look pretty good.
Fire TV is on sale for $US99 and it ships today -- but only to addresses in the US.