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Amazon's Fire TV: set-top box meets game console

Caitlin McGarry | April 3, 2014
In the war for your living room, Amazon just wants to play. The company wants to make it easy for you to enjoy its content, of course, but the new Fire TV set-top box also literally wants to play: It's a game console as well as a media streamer. Amazon announced the $99 Fire TV on Wednesday, shipping immediately in the United States, but no word yet on international availability.

In the war for your living room, Amazon just wants to play. The company wants to make it easy for you to enjoy its content, of course, but the new Fire TV set-top box also literally wants to play: It's a game console as well as a media streamer. Amazon announced the $99 Fire TV on Wednesday, shipping immediately in the United States, but no word yet on international availability.

Fire TV is a set-top box much like the Apple TV or Roku, but it comes with a voice-activated remote control. Like other media streamers, Fire TV supports the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, and more, plus Amazon Instant Video so you can rent titles through the device or watch the free content included with an Amazon Prime subscription. Unlike other set-top boxes, Fire TV will become a gaming console with a $40 Amazon-branded game controller and a slew of games coming next month.

The media move was widely anticipated, but many had expected Amazon's offering to be a streaming stick, given the popularity of Google's Chromecast, which is constantly adding support for new apps. Roku recently released its own Streaming Stick to complement its lineup of set-top boxes. Fire TV isn't a stick; it's a more conventional, dime-thin box, but it takes streaming a step further with its support for games.

Fire TV takes on common complaints

The set-top box hardware itself is pretty standard, but has some beefed-up components compared to the Apple TV and Roku 3. The 2GB Fire TV has a quad-core processor with dedicated GPU. (This comes in handy for all those games you'll be able to play.) The user interface is similar to the Kindle Fire's, with a black background, left-hand menu, and an image grid of new titles and featured apps.

Amazon Kindle Vice President Peter Larsen said Fire TV was designed to address the most common complaints customers have about the Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV, some of which related to performance. Fire TV promises you won't see that spinning wheel of death.

Other complaints were about the "closed ecosystem" of some streaming devices. Larsen said Fire TV will point you toward Amazon content, but will also support competing content providers like Netflix and Hulu. Even better, when you search for a TV show or movie on your Fire TV, Amazon will show you the lowest-cost option to watch it — if it's free with your Netflix subscription or $3.99 through Amazon. Android app developers should have no problem building new apps or porting existing apps to Fire TV, so you can expect plenty of new offerings down the line.

 

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