Online retail giant, Amazon, have just launched the Amazon Fire TV in the US for $99. It’s a very slim black box, not much bigger than a smartphone, and plugs straight in to your HDTV. Once connected to the internet it offers access to loads and loads of the biggest TV and film streaming services like Netflix and Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video (just launched in the UK and free for Amazon Prime members). It’s a safe bet they’ll be offering the likes of BBC iPlayer and 4OD when it crosses the Atlantic too.
There’s certainly no shortage of ways to get TV and film at the moment with many families enjoying on demand video via their set-top box and games console, or using one of Apple or Google’s similar devices. Amazon is looking to distinguish themselves in a few big ways though.
On the video front, they’re able to offer a bigger selection of services by basing the system on Android (the same software then runs loads of non-Apple smartphones). The remote control is unique as well as boasting a microphone in the top for voice control. Ask for Doctor Who and it’ll show you the ever-changing Time Lord. How well this feature works though, remains to be seen. We have been less than impressed with most voice control systems even those in the new generation of Playstation and Xbox.
But the biggest surprise is how much Amazon seems to be pushing the Fire TV as a mini-games console. We’ve seen the Ouya and the Mad Catz M.O.J.O. try to offer smaller, mobile-style games on the big screen in recent years with little success. Amazon is taking a slightly different approach, hiring some big name games talent into its Amazon Game Studios and buying existing game development studios with a view to having them create exclusive content for the Fire TV. They’ve also announced a number of existing games playable on the box too, Minecraft being the biggest.
Early reports on the controller are promising, likening the fully featured gamepad to the superlative XBOX 360 controller. It needs to be bought separately but because the Fire TV runs on Android, you should be able to use most other Bluetooth devices like the PlayStation 3 controller. Coupled with the impressive power in the technical specs and a special, kid-friendly mode called FreeTime, the Fire TV could at last be an affordable, attractive miniature games console for the family.
It’s yet to be seen whether the Fire TV will be able to compete with Google and Apple in the video space or succeed where others have failed as a micro-console but with the money and might of a huge company like Amazon, it certainly stands a very good chance.