Amazon.com is officially entering the streaming video set-top box competition.
The online retailer-turned tech company and content provider announced its new Amazon Fire TV product today at an event in New York. The $99 device is available for order now on Amazon.com.
The 0.7-inch thin Wi-Fi-supporting set-top box streams 1080p high-definition broadcasts and connects to your TV via HDMI. It comes with a remote that lets you use voice to search for content; a $39.99 controller for playing video games is available separately.
"Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price — people are going to love Fire TV," Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. 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."
Amazon hopes Fire TV gives it an advantage over streaming competitor Netflix, which does not sell its own connected devices but is available on more than 1,000 devices, including smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc players and video game consoles. And it designed its new settop box to be more powerful than competing devices from Apple, Google and Roku.
"When we started looking at these technologies in the lab, it became pretty apparent they were underpowered," said Dave Limp, Amazon's vice president of devices. A quad-core processor and improved Wi-Fi connectivity makes Fire TV "super fluid and very responsive, which we didn't see in other devices in this category."
Fire TV will become available at retail later this month at Best Buy and Staples stores. A free month of Amazon Prime and Netflix comes with a Fire TV purchase for those who don't already subscribe.
Amazon "sees the millions of set-top boxes that they sell; they know this is a hot market," said analyst James McQuivey, author of Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. McQuivey was among several analysts and tech journalists attending the event, providing updates on Twitter about Amazon's announcement.
The new set-top box, unveiled by Peter Larsen, the company's vice president in charge of Kindle, is "very thin, about the size of a small piece of toast," McQuivey said.
BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield posted that the arrival of Fire TV isn't necessarily bad news for Netflix, which is a competitor in terms of streaming video content. For Netflix, the "more IP-enabled TVs the better," he noted on Twitter. "Makes it easier to get to their service on the big screen."
Among services beyond Amazon Instant Video and Netflix that are available on the device: WatchESPN; Hulu; Pandora; YouTube; Qello; Crackle, Showtime and Vimeo; and music services Amazon MP3, TuneIn, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Vevo.
Amazon announced the availability of its first video game, Sev Zero, from Amazon Game Studios. The sci-fi action game is played on TV with the Fire TV controller; another player can join in at the same time on a Kindle Fire tablet.
It could be content that ultimately helps Fire TV succeed, says Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy. "The FireTV shows again that an aggregator must have exclusive content to differentiate a platform, too," he says. "Amazon is creating its own video content and is spending millions of dollars today on building up a suite of exclusive games."