NEW YORK — Watch out, Apple, Roku and Google; there’s a new set-top box on the market. Amazon unveiled the $99 FireTV that ships today. Similar to the Kindle lineup, it arrives pre-registered with a user’s Amazon account when bought with Amazon.com.
Amazon’s Peter Larsen:
“We need to invest and simplify on behalf of customers.”
In terms of performance, FireTV features a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a dedicated Adreno 320 GPU, which should eliminate “any hint of lag.” The Adreno 320 GPU can process 57 billion floating point instructions per second. With dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi, FireTV delivers 1080p HD video and supports HDMI and optical audio-out, enabling up to 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus surround sound in a 0.7″-thin package. It’s three times faster than the Roku 3, Apple TV or Chromecast, according to Amazon.
“It’s got a ton of content.”
That content includes apps from Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, NBA, WatchESPN, Showtime, Amazon MP3, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn, Vevo, Crackle at launch with WWE Network, MLB.tv, Watch Disney Channel and WatchABC coming soon. Naturally, Amazon’s Instant Video service is the top dog within the FireTV ecosystem, but the company wants to “help customers find the best deal for most videos with a ‘best value buy box.'” This feature reveals where a show or movie can be watched cheapest, but it will only be pulling in results from Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus.
FireTV also draws on Amazon’s other web services like Amazon Cloud Drive and X-Ray. Starting with the latter, a built-in photos app will display photos backed up with Amazon Cloud Drive and the same X-Ray technology featured in Amazon’s Kindle line of e-readers and tablets are coming to the big screen. What’s new here is X Ray for Music, which displays lyrics and scrolls line-by-line during the song automatically, perfect for karaoke. X-Ray for Music will be available next month.
As for organizing and watching content, users can add content to a watchlist or just start playing it instantly. Amazon has also built in a feature it dubs ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction), which “predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to play and prepares them for playback before you even hit play.”
The FireTV remote packs in a number of buttons while looking relatively small and compact. The remote also uses Bluetooth so there is no “line of sight” required.
Amazon has also built in comprehensive parental controls, letting parents whitelist certain content to be shown in a child-friendly menu interface. With Freetime, parents can create profiles for each child and select the content they can see. Parents can create time limits based on type of content or time of day. Users of FreeTime on Kindle Fire will find previous settings synced between the two platforms.
Voice search “that actually works” is also included. Users can say the name of a movie, TV show, actor, director or genre into the remote and instantly receive results. Voice search uses the search data and expertise of Amazon.com and IMDb, and is optimized to understand Amazon’s catalogs.
Users can also “fling” content between your smartphone and tablet to FireTV using Second Screen. This essentially allows users to perform actions similar to what can be done with Apple TV via Airplay or via Chromecast.
Amazon is also pushing FireTV’s gaming capabilities. The FireTV gamepad will retail for $39.99 and include 1,000 Amazon coins — think Amazon’s equivalent to Microsoft Points — that can be used to purchase games. Don’t expect to pay $20-$30 on a single game with FireTV either. The average FireTV game will be $1.85 and there will be over 1,000 free-to-play titles as well, according to the company.
Obviously these games aren’t going to compare to their counterparts on dedicated consoles, but it could appeal to casual users that normally only play games on their mobile devices. Games include Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA 2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2 and Despicable Me: Minion Rush. Gamers can play FireTV games with the included FireTV remote, the FireTV app for smartphones and tablets and the FireTV gamepad mentioned above.