Amazon unveils its Apple TV competitor: meet the $99 Fire TV set-top box

By , Apr 2, 2014

Amazon Fire TV (flat, with remote, popcorn)

Amazon has just taken the wraps off its new media-streaming device designed to compete with the likes of Apple’s $99 Apple TV hockey puck, Roku devices and other media-streaming boxes available to cable-cutters today.

It’s rather predictably called the Fire TV in a nod to the successful Kindle Fire tablet brand, costs $99 and runs a forked Android version code-named ‘Mojito’.

Powered by a quad-core processor with 2GB RAM and a dedicated graphics processor, the set-top box is capable of streaming full HD 1080p resolution video (1,920-by-1,080 pixels) and Amazon claims it’s three times more powerful than the Apple TV.

It supports 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus surround sound via HDMI and optical audio-out, has dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi, comes with a Bluetooth remote and ties into Amazon’s vast ecosystem of digital content licensed from Hollywood majors and broadcasters.

I don’t think Apple should be concerned because the Fire TV’s user interface appears clunky (I even like Chromecast’s better) and it’s hard to see much that isn’t already out there, though I have no doubt in my mind that the Fire TV is here to stay and tie existing Amazon customers even deeper into its ecosystem.

Read on for the full reveal…

The box supports searching for a movie, TV show, actor, director, genre, app or game using spoken commands, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remarking that the Fire TV’s voice search “actually works.”

Amazon Fire TV (Voice Search)

As you can see on the images used throughout this article, the Fire TV’s included remote features seven buttons, a directional pad and a built-in microphone. Also available on the Fire TV: Amazon’s recommendation technology for movies, TV shows and music called X-Ray, letting you check out information about cast and crew, trivia, goofs and synchronized lyrics.

Amazon Fire TV (Homescreen 002)

Here’s actor Gary Busey meeting the new Fire TV box in Amazon’s rather odd promotional video that will begin airing soon.

Funny, no Apple TV bashing.

Wait, Amazon’s marketing material does mention Apple’s box:

Fire TV features a world-class quad-core processor with 3x the processing power of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3, and a dedicated Adreno 320 graphics engine that processes 57 billion floating point instructions per second, for lightning-fast graphics and excellent fluidity. Fire TV comes with 2GB of memory, 4x the memory of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3, so content loads faster and games run smoother.

The device will also double as a home console for casual gamers. Titles download and run directly on the console rather than stream via the web. Games start at just 99 cents, with the average cost of a paid download for the Fire TV around $1.85.

Amazon Fire game controller (side)
Amazon’s wireless game controller for the Fire TV is sold separately.

Here’s Bezos’s pitch:

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price – people are going to love Fire TV. Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly.

And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

And because it’s Android, most titles are expected to be free, supported by in-app advertising. Early games available at launch include popular titles such as Minecraft, Asphalt 8 and a Monsters Inc. game. Amazon isn’t cutting any corners: it’s even launched its own studio to develop in-house games for the Fire TV.

Amazon Fire TV (Gaming)

Of course, the Fire TV supports streaming music and video content from Amazon’s vast media library, with a special emphasis on Prime, Amazon’s subscription-based video service that gives you unlimited access to a library of more than 200,000 TV episodes and movies.

Eligible customers get a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime when they purchase the Fire TV.

Filling in the gaps, the box comes preloaded with third-party apps from media networks like Netflix, WatchESPN and Hulu Plus to augment Amazon’s own media offerings, as well as apps for popular web video sources such as YouTube, Vevo and so forth.

Amazon Fire TV (back)

Unfortunately, popular sources like HBO Go and Showtime Anytime are not available at launch. But don’t worry, Amazon said it will be adding these (and many more: WWE Network, MLB.TV, WATCH Disney Channel, WATCH ABC and Twitch) in the future, by way of firmware upgrades.

Fire TV feature highlights:

  • Massive selection: Over 200,000 TV episodes and movies, millions of songs, and over a hundred games
  • Perfect with Prime: Unlimited access to thousands of popular movies and TV shows including exclusive titles like Downton Abbey and Under the Dome. Get a free 30-day trial
  • Voice search that actually works: Simply say the name of what you want to watch and start enjoying in seconds. Show me
  • Tiny box, huge specs: Fast quad-core processor, 2 GB of memory, dedicated GPU, plus 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound
  • Easy to set up and use: Pre-registered to your Amazon account so you can enjoy favorite titles and personalized recommendations
  • Instant streaming: Exclusive new feature ASAP predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you hit play
  • Perfect for parents: Amazon FreeTime lets you easily limit screen time and create personalized profiles just for kids (coming soon)
  • Great for gaming, too: Play blockbuster titles like Minecraft-Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, and Monsters University, plus free games and Amazon exclusives. Paid games start from just 99 cents

To learn more, check out Amazon’s press release and the Fire TV mini-site.

The Amazon Fire TV is available now, straight from Amazon.

Yes, Amazon has announced a hardware product that ships the same day, an Apple approach many other companies have struggled to copy.

So, what say you?

Can this device give the Apple TV a good run for its money?

And will it force Apple to respond soon?

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  • Lucus Bendzsa

    Cant wait till people find out that it is a piece of crap.

    • Dan

      so’s the AppleTv when you think about it

      • CollegiateLad

        What makes it crap?

      • Dan

        Well maybe not a piece of crap perse, but it’s short of it’s potential. Netflix… even my blueray player has that. It can only stream from itunes, my asus mediabox (I got for 40$) streams from my whole PC, any video format. You can’t even connect a usb drive to it…

        The only thing that’s actually unique is the airplay with idevices.

        ps. I actually got one, but I think it’s very limited.

      • CollegiateLad

        Since you have one you should know I can also mirror or airplay from my mac to my Apple TV – and it will play any video format. And while I can’t connect a drive to my AppleTv, I certainly can to my Mac.

      • Dan

        I don’t have a Mac (have iPhone/iPad). Obviously a Mac plays any video format, that wasn’t the point. I’m just saying that for those who don’t have Macs, it would be very useful, and simple for Apple to allow added functionality.

      • CollegiateLad

        and I don’t have an asus media box.

      • Dan

        Ok man, I didn’t want to start a war. I was only saying that it would be nice to have the added functionality on the Apple TV. It should be simple enough and it’s available on similar devices. Anyhow, good day to you.

      • CollegiateLad

        What are some of the things you would like to see added? And you’re not starting a war – I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

      • Dan

        Personally, being able to plug an external hard drive and play any type of video file and I would be happy. Being able to stream video (.avi, .mkv etc) from my PC (not just from iTunes) would be great as well.

      • Xee

        I would need this before I ever buy an ATV.

      • fernando

        I never meant to start a war
        I just wanted you to let me in…

      • Jack Wong

        I found it is more useful with iOS devices than Mac, like my 50+ father in law can use his 10″ iPad as a video remote to enjoy the Youtube video.

        I had the WD media box(first gen.), that’s a joke.

      • Ashish Maheshwari

        wait till you jailbreak it. but Apple TV jailbreak scene is a little sketchy :|

      • Antzboogie

        He is a hater Amazon has a lot of money to upgrade change whatever they want in the user interface lets not jump into conclusions.

      • Jason Baroni

        Not really. Netflix works nice only on Apple TV for me. I love to stream content from there, iTunes Radio as well as watch shows and movies. You should get one.

      • Dan

        I have one, I just don’t like that it’s hooked to itunes and the fact that you can’t plug in a usb hard drive. Netflix can be had from pretty much any device (blueray player/wii in my case). I only use it for airplay.

      • Jason Baroni

        I think Apple can rethink the software on Apple TV. In my opinion it is a great device, but it had better to get a new concept. I think there is a lot to change like the integration of more than 1 account for iTunes, for example. I don’t like the limit with iTunes too

      • AlexT

        It’s also not possible to connect a hdd to the fire tv from what I’ve read, am I right?

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        If you have a PC or Mac you might want to check out PlexConnect which allows you to stream a Plex library on an Apple TV…

      • Dusty

        I can see both sides of this debate. I happen to own 4 Apple TV’s and love every minute of them. However, I only own Apple TV Gen 2’s and use Apple TV Black which is the best home network streaming solution on the “market.” Here’s where Apple TV dropped the ball. The 3rd Gen is not jailbreakable, and while I get that technically no is supposed to do it, it signals Apple made a choice between a minute number of crafty consumers and being beholden to Hollywood. They chose Hollywood. The problem with that is simple. Hollywood decided buying DVD’s or Blu Ray’s meant you don’t actually own a copy of that film. And as such, the consumer is legally mired to physical discs and fragmented digital copy formats. The consumer doesn’t get to decide. So the consumer has opted to decide for themselves, they rip their Blu Ray’s and DVD’s and use them how they see fit.

        Now what Apple TV needs to do with their 4th Gen is also simple. First don’t lock it down and turn a blind eye to what consumers may or may not do with the product post-purchase. What does it need? Dolby Digital and DTS. 1080P with 3D support. Full web interface with optional keyboard. App Downloads. Contracts with DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, AT&T, and Timewarner to offer limited streaming of some content offered by each provider.

      • Dusty

        Oh. And skip the video games Apple. No need to reinvent the wheel here. Sony and Microsoft have that market pretty well figured out. Stick to what you can master – don’t enter a new market for the sake of entering a new market.

      • n0ahcruz3

        True lol.. Chromecast is better than these set top boxes

      • AlexT

        I’ve checked chromecast out and it seems you really don’t know ur shit. Chromecast is too limited, but well… when you don’t know better I can imagine it’s the top of the world.

      • n0ahcruz3

        Well considering its 35$ compared to 99 set top boxes it also got limits and needs improvement. Chill man its just a gadget

      • http://jeffmcneill.com/blog/ Jeff McNeill

        Chromecast is limited, and not getting better anytime soon. Mine is now on ebay. AppleTV is limited and getting slower, and not getting better anytime soon. (See the pattern?). Fire TV is set up to do good stuff at the low end, and better (though not identical) functionality with Apple TV. My strategy is to get the new Fire TV, and then get the new Apple TV when the new version is released. I’ve got two HDMI so this gives me the best of both worlds. Google got outhustled by Amazon yet again. Apple is feeling the pressure. Go Bezos!

    • Antzboogie

      Dont be a hater both have their uses and customer fan base.

    • ExRoot

      Can’t wait? Thanks important to you? Exciting?

      What is wrong with you people!? Do you own an Apple TV? I do and aside from airplay for MovieBox it is limiting. My Roku is much better. I also have a Chromecast but don’t use it much because of Roku.

      The point is the Apple TV does not rank high. Be happy for competition and not jealous.

  • Daniel Arrington

    Hmm, definitely looks interesting. I just don’t think Amazon’s ecosystem is one I want to be a part of yet. For the same price, I’d rather get a box that is going to work seamlessly with Apple products I already own. I bet soon enough though, Amazon will be releasing a smartphone.

  • http://facebook.com/lodigabriel Gabriel Lodi

    It’s not a revolutionary device. For me it’s like an Apple TV meets Ouya.
    The big mistake regard to these TV boxes is the missing support cable TV. Apps and games are cool, but is something that any videogame console have.
    Sometimes I think that is better to build a HTPC with OpenELEC that buy one of those boxes.

    • Lucus Bendzsa

      Yeah look at Roku’s games. Enough said.

    • http://jeffmcneill.com/blog/ Jeff McNeill

      Apple TV meets Ouya is not a bad thing, especially for the price of Apple TV alone (but have to add in another $100 for HDMI cable and two controllers). Who needs cable TV in these boxes? That already plugs into the TV on another port.

  • Franklin Richards

    Big company tech development really has become quite stagnant hasn’t it? Please Apple do what you do best and show everyone how it’s meant to done.

    • Lucus Bendzsa

      i hope Apple comes out with a $199 full fledged gaming console. That would be awesome.

      • Carlos Cedeno

        That would be the worst idea ever!

      • AlexT

        yeah not really a good idea. They’re always behind on performance. Apple’s gaming console will most likely be like the Wii, performance wise that is, without the Nintendo exclusives to make up for it

      • Franklin Richards

        Apple has done the whole games console things before. Didn’t go well for them. Look up Pippin.

  • Jason Baroni

    Ads suck the user experience.

  • JoGrant

    So…more expensive than the Roku, same price but faster processor than Apple TV, but if/when Apple has a new version, there might be features that will leapfrog Amazon’s box?

    Not jumping in to buy this one.

    I have two Rokus (previous generation) and a Chromecast (which at this point I consider pretty much as waste, despite its low price).

    If and when Apple comes out with an improved video streamer, and a development and distribution channel more like their iOS devices, then I’ll be in on that one. Don’t anticipate getting Android phones again any time in the near future, even one from Amazon.

    And…ad supported stuff? Wow. I do what I can to AVOID ads on my streaming media, without pushing the monthly media tab too high. We only have Hulu Plus because my husband is on the road frequently.

    At least Amazon is smart enough not to put all their eggs in one basket. I use their Prime streaming media service and their Kindle books on my iOS devices (and the media on Roku).

  • Antzboogie

    Dont make yourself look like a hater both will be Convenient Im sure

  • redsymphony

    when xbmc runs on it i will get it

    • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

      Will probably be doing that anytime soon. Check out them mini Android PCs (bit ly/QGXWwX) before you pick a hockey puck up…

  • Blip dude

    Not for me, but not going to bash on it. With the exception of Airplay and Streaming iTunes, Apple TV isn’t exactly better than the Roku 2 either. At least with the Roku 2, I can watch anything I WANT to watch, stream Ultraviolet movies (That can also be streamed on my smart blu-Ray, but of course, not the Apple TV), and the best feature is the private listening which definitely come in handy during those sleepless nights. I’m still trying to figure out a workaround for a private listening feature on the Apple TV. Now I am not saying the Apple TV is useless either, but the Roku 2 definitely offers more variety for me than the Apple TV. Oh, and I found a Roku app that claims it will let me stream media from Google Drive and Dropbox. I’ll see how that works and if there aren’t any catches.

    • Scott

      So, the ultraviolet movies, they are protected, right? Can only be played using an ultraviolet player program/app, etc… How is that different than iTunes media?

      To be honest I hate ultraviolet crap. I just download my video content, import to iTunes, play on my ATV. Fairly simple. If I don’t want to import it, I just use my iPhone to stream the content and airplay it to the ATV. Can do this also if it isn’t in M4V, MOV, or MP4 format. I watch netflix on it as well. That is pretty much it. Hulu plus too I guess but not much. Not much need for anything else for me. What do you find so useful with the roku? Have tried two so far and neither have I found more useful that my ATVs.

      • Blip dude

        “So, the ultraviolet movies, they are protected, right? Can only be played using an ultraviolet player program/app, etc… How is that different than iTunes media?”

        Oh, that is a simple question to ask: I don’t pay for Ultraviolet movies. With the exception of some Studio Ghibli, Makoto Shinkai, and a few other Anime titles, i have yet buy any movies. I get the ultraviolet from friends because to them, they only wanted 1 copy of the same movie, not 3. So almost every ultraviolet movie I have, I never had to actually pay for. iTunes library on the other hand, 85% I had to pay for. So why on earth should I continue paying for movies on iTunes when I literally have access to Ultraviolet copies for free??

        “What do you find so useful with the roku?”

        More channel selections (Like Funimation and Amazon Instant video). I cheated the M-Go system to where I can have up to a total of 8 M-go movie rentals, which I can’t access on the Apple TV, With Drivecast (though I will admit it doesn’t always work), I get to watch movies I uploaded to cloud storages so, no need for Airplay. And the best part, I don’t trap myself into one ecosystem. I love having options. I don’t wanna sound like I am bashing on Airplay, because I understand that it is a useful feature that I even may need in the future, but for now, it is exactly 100% useful or needed.

        ATV won’t even give me the option for private listening and I had to find a workaround (God bless Jailbreak) just to have that option. As an owner of an Apple TV, I won’t say it is collecting dust, but in my personal circumstance, it does see more dust around it than Roku does for a reason.

  • Saeed Ghattas

    Here comes another court case…in 3..2…1

  • Ted Forbes

    Yep this will give Apple a run for the money. Both share each others customers. I am happy to see there is a side menu and some memory something Apple should have added long time ago. Most of all voice activated for search.

    Nice, might get one.

  • http://173.58.214.169/ Anthony3595

    The Ethernet logo looks much like the one on the Mac.

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    What do these hockey pucks have over $89 mini Android PCs?

    “Yes, Amazon has announced a hardware product that ships the same day, an Apple approach many other companies have struggled to copy.”

    It’s never written by Christian without the baseless fanboy claims…

  • http://bitly.com/company-s Emily Robins

    Amazon announced the launch of its video and game streaming device, Fire TV. And the set-top box is similar to Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast, will help people stream content from their favorite service providers.

  • mfmayes49

    Does this unit play 3d material on a 3d tv from Netflix?