It's not a price war, as Amazon has priced their over-the-top box at $99, but it is certainly heating things up in the war for the living room video streaming attention span. On top of that, they are recruiting online video services to ally with them and put the thumb screws to the competition, namely, Apple and Google. But what makes Amazon's Fire TV different and why did they price it almost 3x the Chromecast?
The content lineup reads like a who's who in online video services including Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Major League Baseball, YouTube, Showtime, VEVO, Vimeo, Crackle, and Flixster. It seems they missed HBO or couldn't come to terms with them as of yet. It will, of course, tie into your Amazon Prime streaming account with unlimited access to thousands of popular movies and TV shows. Additionally it can access rentals of over 200,000 TV episodes and movies. There are numerous other streaming partners already so on the content side it's ready to rock. Here's the official promo trailer:
Voice Search That "Works"
A major selling point on the Fire TV page at Amazon is "voice search that works." Seems like poking the sleeping bear with a stick to me. The remote has a microphone on the end and you can speak into it to search for content. I don't know that is a value add feature or not because many people just won't adopt that any time soon. Then again, Amazon is aiming at the cord-nevers I imagine so they may think it a major point with that audience. I agree that some voice search is frustrating, for example trying to get the Xbox 360 to open the Hulu app as Hulu is not in a dictionary.
The specs quoted include a "Qualcomm Krait 300, quad-core to 1.7 Ghz, 8 GB internal storage, 2 GB of memory, dedicated GPU, plus 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound," which is nothing less than one should accept from a streaming device these days. As you can see from the image below (don't click to enlarge, that won't work) there are multiple outputs on the device, which most likely added to the cost. So instead of having to route your HDMI signal through various devices to extract the sound, you can just use an optical audio cable. It's also got an ethernet cable instead of just Wi-Fi. Yes, it also has Wi-Fi, a lot of it.
Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO) for faster streaming and fewer dropped connections than standard Wi-Fi. Supports public and private Wi-Fi networks that use the 802.11a/b/g/n standard with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication
Also support is USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.0, 1080p or 720p at 60/50Hz, Video: H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1, Audio: AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3, Photo: JPG, PNG and support for Dolby Digital Plus, 5.1 surround sound, 2ch Stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1
The OTT "War"
The war heats up when you see that Amazon has put together a handy comparison chart of the Fire TV, Roku 3, Apple TV and Chromcast devices, almost as if they're saying, "Bring it!" to the other device makers. Did I mention the optional game controller for the 100+ games that are already certified as ready for Fire TV?
Interestingly, they don't mention the operating system. The Fire TV does run Minecraft Pocket Edition but I doubt it's iOS, so I'm going to say it's Android. So Amazon is using Google's own OS against them here. Savvy!
It can also tie into tablets with second screen "flick" capabilities so you can send video from your tablet to the big screen and free up the tablet for other uses.
Finally, it has Amazon FreeTime which is aimed at giving kids a safe set of content and controls. As an added bonus, there's no big slot for them to stuff a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into!
The OTT biz has seen a bumpy ride with boxes coming and going, Google trying and rebooting, and now Amazon getting into the fray. But now we have this weird situation where video streaming is becoming main stream and the ISPs and MSOs are looking at it like it's the devil sucking down all their bandwidth. So it seems like soon we will see it all come to a head and either everything will change, for example when the virtual MSO arrives (probably Dish(less)TV), or when an MSO blocks a streaming video service and demands more money for it (hello Comcast).