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

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?