Amazon has sold millions of set-top boxes, such as the Roku and Google Chromecast, but now the company is stepping into the arena itself with the $99 Amazon Fire TV. Shipping today, the device is thinner than a dime yet boasts three times the performance of Apple TV. The Fire TV not only lets you search for content via your voice, you can play games on the big screen.
The Fire TV sports a quad-core processor with a dedicated GPU, 2GB of RAM (2X to 4X more than competing devices) and state-of-the-art MIMO Wi-Fi for "screaming" wireless performance.
Amazon will also bundle a slick Bluetooth remote with six buttons and a directional pad. The interface itself is very slick and sported smooth scrolling during a quick on-stage demo. Best of all, the remote lets you search for content using your voice, whether it's a TV show or actor.
Content partners include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Watch ESPN, Vimeo, NBA and multiple other providers. All of your content is a couple clicks away, and Amazon is using Whispersync to keep all your content in sync across multiple devices. A new ASAP feature anticipates what you're going to watch and cues up shows and movies instantly.
Amazon says the Fire TV will offer thousands of games within the next month, which you'll be able to play using the remote control, an app or a dedicated Fire game controller ($39.99). Gaming publishers on board include EA, Gameloft, Sega, Disney Ubisoft and more. Key launch titles include Minecraft and Asphalt 8. The average price of a game is just $1.85. Amazon is even making its own games, such as the shooter "Sev Zero." This could be the Ouya done right.
If you have the Amazon Cloud Drive app on your smartphone, your pics will automatically upload to the Fire TV in the Photos menu. Other software goodies include X-Ray for movies, which allows you to look up info on what you're watching on the fly. Amazon is also bundling its music service, which includes lyrics support.
Amazon is offering a FreeTime feature for the Fire TV that gives kids their own environment of content and apps. The menu is very colorful, and it includes character search for such popular themes as Dinosaurs. There's also a time limit feature, just like on Kindle tablets. A FreeTime Unlimited subscription will give your child unlimited content from PBS Kids, Nickolodeon and Sesame Street.
Overall, Amazon's Fire TV looks blazing fast and smart, and the gaming action looks like it could satisfy the masses--even though the controller costs extra. However, the $99 price is higher than the Chromecast and some Roku devices. We'll have to see if the versatility is worth the premium.