At a press event today, Amazon finally unveiled its answer to Apple TV and Roku: the Amazon Fire TV, a tiny, set-top media player that will sell for $99. But if you were looking for a radical departure from what's already out there, you're going to be a bit disappointed by the features and the price.
That said, there are some unique attributes that we'll soon be checking out in our labs. Amazon says it believes that current media players have three key drawbacks: hard-to-use text-based search, poor, laggy performance due to video buffering, and closed ecosystems—the latter apparently a direct dig at Apple TV, which doesn't currently offer Amazon Instant Video.
Amazon Fire TV tackles the search issue by allowing voice searches, which are spoken into a microphone built into the small remote control. Amazon claims its voice search is better, allowing you to search not just by keywords, movie titles, and actors, but by categories.
Because Amazon sells a lot of streaming media players, it says, it gets a lot of feedback about common complaints, such as laggy performance. To speed up operations, the Fire TV player has a quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics processor like those used in more expensive smart phones. It also has 2GB of RAM, which it claims is double that in competitive players. Another feature, called ASAP, anticipates shows and movies you might be interested in and buffers them for faster access. During a demo at the event, content did start playing almost immediately after the play button was pushed, without the latency you often get with many players.
Other features include built-in dual-band Wi-Fi, plus a small Bluetooth remote control that has seven buttons, along with a click wheel navigator.
Amazon Fire TV comes with a decent amount of content, though less than offered by Roku. Besides supporting Amazon's services, it hits most of the major bases with Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and Vimeo, as well as Showtime Antime, but it looks like right now there's no HBO Go.
When watching shows and movies, you can pull up an overlay of related background data such as info about cast and crew (powered by IMDb), either on the TV or as a second-screen application on a Kindle Fire tablet. You can also wirelessly mirror your tablet display to your Fire TV with Kindle Fire, and other Miracast-enabled phones or tablets starting later this year. Amazon says it will have 10 new original series, including the second season of "Alpha House," and it just announced that it has locked up the exclusive rights to offer the popular TV show "24" as part of the Amazon Prime service.
For those looking to display personal conent, there's a photo app that lets you show images stored on Amazon's Cloud Drive on your TV, either individually or as a slideshow.