April 2, 2014 Last Updated 12:17 pm

Amazon enters the TV set-top box game with Fire TV

The much expected TV set-top box has been launched today by Amazon. The new video hardware device is priced at $99, the same as the Apple TV, and even comes with a remote somewhat reminiscent of the Apple TV remote (though in black). Its basic differentiator is that Fire TV can be searched using voice controls, addressing a big complaint about the Apple TV remote.

AmazonFireTV-featureBut the new device makes it pretty clear that the big problem with these new devices is securing content. The new device launches with far more choices than the Apple TV did when it launched, but then again some time has gone by. So the Fire TV comes with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Watch ESPN and others, but apps from MLB, HBO, YouTube and PBS are missing, for instance.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO, said in a statement (he was noticeably missing from the product introduction event.

“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,” Bezos said.

Amazon has once again announced its expected device before Apple has come out with a revised and long over due update to the Apple TV. Amazon preempted Apple back last fall with its Kindle Fire HDX announcement, though its ship date had to be announced as being in the future. In the case of the Fire TV, customers can order the device immediately.

Spec-wise, the Fire TV blows away both the Roku 3, Chromecast and the Apple TV. Amazon’s new device has a quad-core processor with 2 GB of memory. Like the Apple TV, it also has an optical audio out port. Apple has been pretty stingy with giving its iOS based devices sufficient memory, it will be interesting to see if an update improves things in this area.

feature-secondscreenAmazon needed to introduce its own set-top box in order to have a place there for its Prime video streaming service, the cornerstone of its Amazon Prime program, which recently had its price raised. One could stream Prime video to other TV set-top boxes using their mobile devices, but that was not a good solution for many users. But Amazon has hardly hit a home run right out of the box with the Fire TV. Amazon is stressing the voice search, but one can expect Apple to launch a similar way to navigate the Apple TV with the next update (if they don’t, Cook needs to fire someone).

So will Fire TV catch on? My guess is that the answer is yes simply because Amazon is selling Kindle Fires. This, like the iPhone and iPad, locks in users to a platform. The Apple TV is, for many, simply an extension of their other iOS devices, as Amazon itself acknowledged in some of their graphics they chose to use for promoting the new device. And like that device, the new Fire TV is a gateway to the other products Amazon wishes to sell you. Surprisingly, one app Amazon did not introduce for the Fire TV was its own TV shopping experience app.

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