Amazon released the Fire TV set-top media streaming device today at an event in New York, stepping squarely onto the turf of the Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast with a small, feature-heavy package about the size of an old CD double album.
The Amazon Fire TV costs $99 the same as Apple TV and is already available online. It packs similar hardware to a high-end smartphone, including a quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM, dedicated Adreno 320 GPU and dual-band Wi-Fi antenna.
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Users of the Fire TV can link a number of online services to the device for living-room viewing including Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and WatchESPN, along with Amazon's own Instant Video and Prime Instant Video. Notable in its absence, however, is HBO Go.
A predictive queuing feature, called ASAP, pre-loads content that it thinks users are more likely to view, so that it plays immediately when requested. Amazon's whispersync feature lets users resume a program from where they left off, even if they were watching on a different device.
The Fire TV remote, which works via Bluetooth instead of the usual IR blaster, includes a robust built-in voice search capability and, when the device is used to stream games from a special online library, the ability to act as a controller. (A dedicated gaming controller is available for $40. Games average $1.85 each.)
Fire TV is the latest entrant into a living-room streaming market that's being influenced by a number of different device types everything from cable company-issue DVRs to dedicated media PCs to gaming consoles provides some subset of features. If the endgame, however, is unifying all living-room entertainment and connectivity in a single device, Amazon has just made itself a major player.
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