The venue for the press conference was decked out like a swanky home theater, from the cushy chairs and giant TV on top of a low bookshelf to the Junior Mints and popcorn at a concession stand in the back of the room. And sure enough, Amazon made an announcement that is likely to change the competitive landscape for digital streaming: Amazon Fire TV, a product that will look very familiar to anybody with an Apple TV.
The device costs $99 and features enough horsepower to run not merely streaming video but a host of other apps, including all your radio subscriptions, Netflix, Hulu and a host of first- and third-party games, with huge companies like 2K, EA and Ubisoft announcing partnerships simultaneously. If you're PlayStation or Xbox and you just rolled out a clunky console for hundreds of dollars, now might be a good time to worry.
Amazon's ad campaign for the device was featured at the end of the presentation—creative from the upcoming promos featured Gary Busey acting characteristically nutty as he demonstrates one of the device's topline features: voice control. We'd describe it, but you're better off watching it yourself:
The wallet-sized contraption boasts a quad-core processor, two gigabytes of RAM and "three times the power of Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast," according to vp of Kindle Peter Larsen; this comes immediately after Amazon's announcement that its streaming service would be the only place to watch the Fox hit 24, which disappeared from Netflix yesterday.
Impressively, the machine aggregates all the user's existing subscriptions into a single GUI, presenting the lowest-cost option first on the list of shows. If you have a Netflix subscription, for example, you will see the free episodes streamable through that service before you see the à la carte episodes Amazon sells on the same menu. "On some platforms you can't get the content and on others you have to pay twice for it," Larsen said, pulling up a quote on the screen behind him that featured consumer gripes about Xbox, which requires and Xbox Live Gold subscription to use apps such as Netflix
Netflix is also promoting its own streaming service for kids, FreeTime Unlimited, which includes content from PBS, Disney and Nickelodeon. Larsen touted the $4.99 subscription ($9.99 with password sharing between four devices) as a way for parents to let their kids watch TV "without having to play sheriff all the time." For adults, it's pitching its new slate of original content, which includes new series Transparent, Chris Carter's The After (the title was announced at the press event), Mozart in the Jungle, and several others. Garry Trudeau's political comedy, Alpha House, has been picked up to a second season.
Many were expecting a Chromecast-style dongle from the company and even an ad-supported streaming service; the new device appears to threaten not just the Apple TV but gaming peripherals as well—the controller Amazon showed off looks quite a bit like the familiar PS3 and Xbox dual-stick machines, and from this reporter's brief experience playing Minecraft, the device is powerful enough to support some very interesting new software.