Here comes Amazon Fire TV: Amazon announces its $99 TV set-top box

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon officially announced a TV streaming box called Amazon Fire TV at its press event in New York Wednesday morning. The device is a set-top box with a dedicated remote control that is powered by a quad-core CPU and a dedicated GPU, which results in it being three times as powerful as competitors like Apple TV and Roku. Fire TV goes on sale immediately for $99.

The device comes with a dedicated remote control that enables voice input through a microphone button. The box itself is connected through 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi. There is also an Ethernet port, optical audio out, obviously HDMI and a single USB 2.0 port. Fire TV comes with 8 GB storage for apps as well as 2 GB memory.

AmazonFireTV_HomeScreen_Front

The device will come with a number of featured third-party apps at launch, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Quello, NBA GameTime, Plex, Vevo, TED amd MLB.tv. Netflix and Hulu Plus are featured right on the home screen, and content of these apps is available through content recommendations that take into account which serves a viewer subscribes to. FreeTime also doubles as a kind of parental control for the device: Parents can set time limits for video viewing, and kids won’t be able to exit the app and access other content without their parents’ approval.

Amazon FireTV apps

Amazon Fire TV also integrates other Amazon services. Users who have the Amazon Cloud Drive app installed on their mobile devices can view photos on the TV right after they’re uploaded to the cloud. Subscribers can also access FreeTime, Amazon’s curated tier of content for kids, through the device.

Another key feature is gaming. Amazon wants to deliver thousands of gaming titles from publishers like Disney, Ubisoft and EA, but not directly go up against Xbox One and PS4, but rather target casual and mobile gamers. To do so, it will sell a dedicated game controller, dubbed the Fire Game Controller, for $40. For that price, consumers will also get 1,000 Amazon coins to spend on game titles. There will also be a multiplayer mode that will integrate tablets and phones. And yes, this is the game controller that leaked a few weeks ago.

The device goes up against competition from Apple, Roku and Google, whose devices all sell on Amazon.com as well. Kindle VP Peter Larsen took a direct stab at Roku Wednesday, demonstrating how hard it can be to find titles via search with a traditional remote control. He also quoted Amazon customer reviews of Apple TV, Roku and Vizio media streamers highlighting the same issue.

The new Amazon Fire TV uses voice search through its remote. Photo from Amazon.

The new Amazon Fire TV uses voice search through its remote. Photo from Amazon.

It had been clear for a long time that Amazon had been working on a TV streaming device. The company had hired a good chunk of the team that built Logitech’s Revue Google TV box, and reportedly was looking to launch in time for the 2013 holiday season, but decided to delay the release for unknown reasons.

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