We've been waiting for it for quite some time, but now Amazon is finally ready to make its play for the living room. Fire TV is not a barebones device like the Chromecast; it's a powerful Android-driven platform with ties to the broader Amazon ecosystem. Inside the slim black plastic box is a quad-core CPU with a full 2GB of RAM -- that makes it more akin to a high-end smartphone than your typical streaming device. And it's incredibly slim, shorter than a dime, with barely enough clearance for the small selection of ports around back, which includes the standard HDMI, as well as optical audio and Ethernet.
The interface is incredibly image-heavy. Browsing through the Amazon video store is basically just scrolling through an endless barrage of movie posters presented in a moving 3D bar. And, at least during the demo, the hardware churned through the slick UI with nary a hiccup in sight. But far more impressive was how quick videos were to load. Pressing play on almost any video instantaneously launched the movie or show. And we mean instantaneously. There was no pause, lag or loading screen -- it's impressive to say the least.
And, true to the company's word, this is not a closed ecosystem. It's powered by Android and HTML, which should make porting apps extremely simple. The device will launch with access to Hulu and Prime (obviously), but other partners will be added over time, including Netflix, Plex and NBA Game Time, if the demo screens are to be believed. It can pull in content from other Amazon services as well. If you've got photos on your Amazon Cloud Drive, you can beam them to your TV and look at them either as a scrolling screensaver mosaic or as a slideshow.
You can obviously control the Fire TV with the buttons on your remote, but you can also use voice control. Inside the remote is a microphone that captures your searches, sends them to the Amazon cloud, deciphers them and tells the Fire TV what to pull up. And it does all of this incredibly quickly, at least as fast as Google Now. Amazon is also bringing X-Ray to the platform. If you've got an Amazon tablet, you can pull up additional info about characters, actors and the soundtrack while you're watching your favorite movies or TV shows. While you've been able to do that for sometime, it's now a truly second screen experience. X-Ray for music is also accessible on FireTV, so you can see the lyrics to whatever track you're listening too. Basically if it's a feature of the Fire OS, it's coming to the TV box. Even FreeTime, the kid-friendly version of the software that lets parents control what their children can watch, when and for how long.
It wasn't super surprising, but Amazon also announced that it is bringing gaming to its new set-top. Developers like 2K, Double Fine and Ubisoft (among others) will be bringing their wares to the platform. The biggest name though, is definitely Minecraft. While you'll be able play games with the remote or a custom Amazon app for your phone or tablet, which is coming next month, the big news is that Amazon will be selling an accessory game controller -- and yes it's the same one we saw previously in leaks. It's not unlike an Xbox controller, but with the standard set of Android buttons on its face and media controls along one edge. And to prove it's serious about gaming, Amazon has scored a number of exclusive titles for Fire TV, like Sev Zero, which is built by Amazon Game Studios.
Sure, other set-tops have tried the gaming thing -- most notably Roku -- but it's immediately clear that Amazon is taking the space much more seriously. Roku has only a handful of games, and most are casual titles. Part of the difference here is pure hardware. Others simply haven't crammed in the horsepower that Amazon has.
Fire TV is available today for $99.
- Key specs
- Type Audio / video player
- Video services Amazon
- Video codec support h.264 / AVC, MPEG-4
- Audio codec support AAC, MP3
- Video outputs HDMI (1 outputs, v1.4)
- Audio outputs TOSLINK (optical)
- WiFi 802.11 ac
- Released 2015-10-05
Amazon Fire Game Controller