Apple TV hasn’t had much competition and has mostly had the set top box market to itself for several years now. Steve Jobs famously called it a hobby. Now Amazon has released Fire TV, which goes way beyond what Apple TV does and it looks like a killer product.
The hardware consists of a small box that plugs into an HD TV through an HDMI socket and a remote control. It provides access to Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, SHOWTIME, low-cost video rentals and so on. It can stream movies in high definition at 1080p resolution with Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound.
At first sight it looks fairly ordinary, but this is actually a powerful device running the latest version of Fire OS, Mojito, which is based on Android. The box contains a quad-core processor that Amazon claims has three times the processing power of Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku 3, plus a dedicated Adreno 320 graphics engine that that processes 57 billion floating point instructions per second, for lightning-fast graphics. The device also has 2GB of memory.
Even the remote is unusually powerful and instead of working via infra-red, it is a Bluetooth device. This means that it does not need line-of-sight to the Fire TV box, which is useful.
Even more useful though, is the built in microphone and voice search. Instead of trying to use awkward on-screen keyboards with an infra-red remote, you just say what you want to watch into the Bluetooth remote. You just say the name of a movie, TV show, actor, director, or genre into the remote.
Fire TV also features ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction). ASAP predicts what you might want to watch next based on your previous viewing history and gets it lined up for playback before you have even selected it.
A feature called Second Screen enables you to send movies and TV shows from your phone or tablet. It will appear first on the Kindle Fire HDX and later on there will be iOS apps for the iPad and iPhone. You’ll be able to mirror a tablet to the TV, view your photos and so on.
As you might expect of an Android device, Amazon Fire TV runs games too. There is a wireless remote game controller that will enable you to play games on the big screen from the confort of your sofa. The controller has dual analogue sticks and a variety of other controls.
Among the first games to feature on the Fire TV are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush. There are 100 games at launch and converting existing games to the Fire TV should be relatively easy as it is just another Android device.
With voice control, games and more, this currently looks like the hottest set-top box around and could well give Apple a few sleepless nights.
It looks like Fire TV is only available in the US at the moment and the price is $99, but hopefully it will appear in other countries eventually.