Amazon has entered the television fray with its familiar Fire brand. Fire TV is on sale now for $99, but how does it stack up against its main rivals, Roku and Apple TV?
Fire TV is a box that plugs into an HDTV set and gives you access to Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Showtime, video rentals, and a cadre of additional content. The set top box also lets you see photos, listen to music and play games on your TV.
“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price -- people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “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.”
Voice Recognition Differentiates
Fire TV offers a laundry list of features. Bezos already mentioned voice search, the ASAP feature, and the content line up, which includes over 200,000 movie and TV episodes from Amazon Instant Video alone. On the inside, Fire TV has a quad-core processor the company claims offers over three times the processing of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3. There’s also a dedicated GPU and four times the memory of its key rivals.
The gaming feature may turn heads. Fire TV owners can tap into games like Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, and Despicable Me: Minion Rush. The average price for a gaming title: $1.85. Of course, Amazon has built in parental controls to keep kids from viewing inappropriate content.
The Fire TV’s remote is interesting. You can search, browse, play, pause, and add titles to your watchlist with ease. It relies on Bluetooth so there is no “line of sight” required. In practice, that means you don’t have to reach or struggle to aim your signal at a tiny target. You can even store your Fire TV in a cabinet or behind your TV.
The Amazon Advantage
We caught up with Paul Erickson, a senior analyst in IHS Electronics & Media’s Consumer Electronics Group, to get his take on how Fire TV fits into the market. He told us the device fits in between Roku and Apple TV.
“Fire TV is priced similarly to the top-end options from Roku and Apple. In terms of content availability it kind of sits in the middle. Roku leads the market with over 1,000 channels and Apple TV is at the low-end,” Erickson said. “Other than the iTunes Store, Apple has a few popular options but nowhere near as many as Roku.”
Erickson isn’t sure how the voice recognition-based search from the remote control will fare. Roku offers similar functionality through an app and some smart TVs also have the capability. None of Amazon’s competitors in the set top box market have voice search built into the remote.
That, said Erickson, may nor may not be an advantage depending on how consumers respond to it. He pointed out that consumers haven’t been fired up about voice recognition on other platforms, like Xbox as well as Samsung and LG smart TVs.
“Fire TV seems to be a very competent device at the $99 price point. At the very least, it’s competitive within the segment,” Erickson said. “What was more or less a two-horse race -- where Apple and Roku command a combined 90 percent of the market in the U.S. -- now it’s a three-way race, especially considering the Amazon ecosystem behind the box.”