Amazon has entered the streaming device market today with the unveiling of Fire TV, a set top box that doubles as both a video player and games console.
There is no UK release date yet for Fire TV, but the device will go head-to-head with products such as Google’s Chromecast, in what is the fast becoming the most active sector in the VOD industry.
Will it win Amazon the VOD war against Netflix?
Amazon’s reveal today continues its concerted push to lead the digital media market on as many fronts as possible. Amazon recently rebranded its LOVEFiLM Instant service in the UK to Prime Instant Video, also introducing a catalogue of pay-per-view titles to accompany its subscription service, giving it the biggest VOD catalogue in the country. Since its relaunch, it has already announced a new wave of Amazon Original shows, including the revival of BBC’s Ripper Street, and the exclusive rights to Michael Bay’s TV series Black Sails.
Now, though, the company’s video arm is going one step further: from content to hardware. From pixels to plastic.
Stepping beyond the race with Netflix, Fire TV puts Amazon in direct competition with rivals Roku, Google Chromecast and, of course, Apple TV. And the company isn’t afraid to acknowledge it. In fact, it makes a point of trashing them wherever possible.
Speaking to the press today, Vine President Peter Larsen hit out at poor search functions, slow software performance and closed ecosystems as the main weaknesses of existing streaming devices on the market.
Indeed, Amazon’s Fire TV has taken the bold step of making the platform as open as possible – a direct dig at the iTunes-only Apple TV, which is priced at the same $99 in America.
The box gives instant access to Amazon’s video titles, but also to Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN and SHOWTIME, as well as integration with Amazon’s Cloud Drive to provide photos, music and games.
“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price — people are going to love Fire TV,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.”
(Why anyone would want to watch the former is another matter.)
The stats compare favourably to rivals too, with a quad-core processor boasting over 3x the processing power of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3, a dedicated GPU, plus 4x the memory of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3. The box delivers 1080p video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound where available.
The Fire TV remote uses Bluetooth so there is no “line of sight” required. Mobile devices can also be used as remotes – the signature feature of Google Chromecast. Rather than “Cast” content onto a TV, Amazon will let you “Fling” shows and movies from a phone or tablet to Fire TV, freeing up your device for playback controls.
Amazon has built the platform using Fire OS, which is based on Android, designed to make it easy for developers to port games and apps across. Indeed, developers such as EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega will be bringing games to Fire TV, with over 100 available from launch, including The Walking Dead, Minecraft and NBA2k14.
Fire TV also comes with access to Sev Zero, a new game built exclusively for Fire TV by Amazon Game Studios. Sev Zero is $6.99 and is available for free when you purchase the Fire Game Controller.
Judging by the pictures released by Amazon, the Fire Game Controller may be where the package falls down. To put it politely, the controller is… not attractive.
Ugly accessories aside, will Fire TV transform the streaming device market in the same way Kindle dominated eBooks? The one thing they have in common is simple: they provide a way for Amazon to sell things. A TV set top box may seem like a long way from the retailer’s roots, but its mission is simple: flog as much digital media as possible.
That’s where Amazon has the edge on Netflix – it’s thinking much, much bigger. You can have as many subscribers and as much media coverage as you like, but every person who signs up to Prime Instant Video or snaps up a snazzy box is another person on the company’s virtual shop floor. They may have moved from content to hardware, but the former is where the money’s at. And Amazon now offers music, games, books and pay-per-view titles as well as subscription VOD exclusives. Then there’s their ability to stock almost every other product a consumer might want to buy. Yes, Netflix may have House of Cards, but make no mistake: Amazon’s shelves are packed. And they’re now filling up your living room.
Will Amazon’s Fire TV set top box win the VOD war? Only time will tell. And with no UK release date confirmed yet – we’ll let you know as soon as we do – time is certainly one thing we have to observe its impact across the pond.