Amazon is making a play for the living room with its new Fire TV. The tiny box offers up mobile gaming along with movie and music streaming. Users will be able to tap into Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video collection in addition to various streaming video and music services from partners (see below). The box runs an operating system based on Android and HTML and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC which makes it about as powerful as today’s mid-range smartphones. At $99, the Fire TV is, ahem, a shot across the bow of devices from Apple, Roku, and Ouya.
The box measures 4.5" x 4.5" x 0.7" and comes bundled with a remote small remote control. Amazon provides hardware ports for HDMI, optical audio output, Ethernet, and USB. The remote has basic playback controls along with a microphone used for the voice search functionality. The Fire TV is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC with four Krait 300 CPU cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of DDR2 memory at 533 MHz, and 8GB of internal flash memory. Networking includes wired Ethernet and a 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 radio. A large heatsink is used to passively cool all of the components.
The Fire TV is launching with a number of applications from partners. Users can stream video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, Vudu, Flixter, NBA, and YouTube among others. Music apps include Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Vevo. Finally, users can play back music and photos from their Amazon Cloud Drive storage. Amazon further offers up an app store for free and paid games. For example, users will be able to play Minecraft Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, or Sev Zero using the included remote or optional $39.99 game pad.
For media junkies with children Amazon has added the FreeTime functionality from its Kindle tablets to the Fire TV. FreeTime restricts the device to kid-friendly programming and a new optional $2.99 per month FreeTime Unlimited subscription offers up a catalog of kid-friendly media for streaming. Other software features include X-Ray (in-media information, such as identifying an actor) and ASAP which attempts to determine what programs you are likely to stream next and begin caching it in the background. For example, it will begin to cache the next episode of a TV series so that when you go to watch the next episode you will not see any loading screens.
The FireTV is a compelling alternative to the Roku (latest being the $50 Streaming Stick) and Apple TV (so long as you are not already invested in the Apple / iTunes ecosystem) while also offering up mobile gaming on the living room TV in a more-polished way that the Ouya ever did. The $99 Fire TV is available from Amazon immediately.
I think the Fire TV has real potential to catch on with most consumers, though the real test for enthusiasts and readers of PC Per will be to see if the extra features and Amazon polish will be worth the price premium over cheaper options like the Chromecast and Raspberry Pi setups.
Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information and hands-on experience with Amazon's latest bit of hardware.