Amazon's new Fire TV heats up the video streaming race

April 2, 2014 11:40 AM Inc. today began selling its $99 set-top box, “Fire TV.” Consumers can watch streamed content through the device while further tying their digital lives to the e-retail giant.

The device, which consumers plug into their high-definition television sets, comes with voice search—a user has to press a button on the device’s remote and speak into a microphone—and access to content via such streaming video services as Netflix, HuluPlus, WatchESPN and YouTube, says Amazon, No. 1 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. Members of the Amazon Prime free-shipping program—for which Amazon recently raised the annual cost to $99—also receive access to the tens of thousands of titles that come with membership. Consumers also can play video games through the device, with the average price for paid games on Fire running $1.85, Amazon says.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new [advanced streaming and prediction] feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly.”

The device is 0.07 inches wide. “It has a powerful quad-core processor, dedicated GPU, 2 GB of memory, and dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi. With a fast, fluid interface, high definition 1080p video, and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound,” Bezos says. The device also enables consumers to stream music from such operators as Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn, and to watch music videos from Vevo. Today Amazon was offering Fire purchasers free 30-day trial memberships for Prime and Netflix. 

"Amazon certainly delivered the obvious benefits a new set top box should deliver to avoid consumer backlash,” says Forrester Research Inc. analyst James McQuivey. “It does all the video you would expect, does it smoothly, and makes it easy to navigate.  It also went a few steps beyond typical by adding a voice search function to the remote control and by providing an Android gaming experience, including a game controller, that puts this box in a league a bit by itself, albeit a league that nobody understands yet.”

Amazon should do more to make the device more valuable, he says.

“For example, today the Fire TV remote lets you search for actors and TV shows with your voice, but why not upgrade the software to let you also buy things? If you see a new mascara on a TV ad, even if you're not watching your Fire TV, you should be able to click on the remote and say, ‘Buy the new Maybelline mascara.’ Even better, if the remote control has been listening to the TV ad all along, it knows exactly which mascara you want thanks to auto content recognition. Only Amazon can piece that entire experience together in the living room and though we don't see evidence of that ambition here today, we should assume Amazon knows this and is planning on it."

Amazon today was promoting Fire TV via a spot featuring Gary Busey, a film and TV actor who earned a Best Actor nomination for the 1978 film "The Buddy Holly Story" and who these days might be best known for, well, his Gary Busey personality.





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