The streaming biz took another step today as Amazon announced its new Fire TV, a $99 set-top box that streams not only videos but music and games, too. It also promises voice-activated search that “actually works,” says Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
The price point matches Apple TV, but the secret sauce here might be that voice search feature, if it really works. Other set-tops use a clunky letter-by-letter search that is annoying and just seems like it was a mechanism that was a place-holder for something, anything better.
The Fire TV set-top is slim and exceptionally thin—just 0.7 inches thick—Amazon says. It can be shoved behind a TV, or stand out like all the set-tops you’ve known. Its remote control is Bluetooth-based.
Maybe Amazon has the answer but a lot of voice-activation promises are shouts that should be whispers. Amazon used the occasion of the introduction to show off a new commercial. It featuring space cadet-like Gary Busey first talking to his lamp and trousers, with predictable results.
"It’s frustrating when things don’t listen,” he says, “Especially hi-tech things.” He then turns to his Fire TV and speaks his name into the remote. The screen responds by showing an onscreen layout of available Busey film titles. It’s not the best commercial ever, but you get the point.
It makes clear that’s what Amazon is selling, certainly more than the content. Amazon is producing original content but it is peddling convenience. The Fire TV set-top names Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, Major League Baseball, YouTube, Showtime and Red Bull as content partners. (HBO Go is on Roku). Fire TV will offer movie and TV at the lowest price, even if it’s not its own service. Getting Netflix on Apple TV involves a separate charge--on top of a subscriber pays to Netflix. A super fast processor means Fire TV will fire up content quickly, it says.
But it’s the stuff away from the heart of the content that might be the other facts that make Fire TV catch on. It touts ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction), a feature that predicts which movies and TV episodes a viewer wants to see next and buffers them for playback before you even hit play. Who knew being so predictable could be much fun?
There’s a way for a user to download personal photos and videos onto Amazon’s cloud and then onto your TV, and another “X-ray” service that fills in users with info about actors, and offers out-takes from the films they’re watching.
Fire TV’s FreeTime also promises as a better parental helper. It controls not only the types of content parents allow (or not), it also sets time limits so kids can’t petition—that’s the nice word—for more time before going to bed. Low-cost games—average price will be $1.85—might be another sleeper in the Fire TV offering. Content people either ignore gaming as a potent source of revenue, or they’re in the gaming business and know it’s a fact. Amazon knows what’s selling in the warehouse, and they’re going for it.