NEW YORK CITY — Amazon is making its biggest play for your living room yet.
Three years after Amazon transformed its streaming video service into a direct Netflix competitor, the company announced its long-awaited set-top box, the Fire TV, a $99 set-top box that puts Amazon in direct competition with Apple, Roku, and the rest.
Instead of just offering its video service on devices from other companies, it gives Amazon a way to reach consumers directly through their televisions.
Amazon’s vice president of Kindle, Peter Larsen, kicked off the today’s unveiling event with an impressive stat: The company saw its video usage grow 350 percent since 2011 thanks to a new focus on getting killer content.
“We need to invent and simplify on behalf of customers,” Larsen said. “We created an experience that uses state-of-the-art power and performance in the service of simplicity.”
The Fire TV sports a quad-core processor that’s three-times faster than the Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast, Larsen said. All that processing power goes towards making the box super zippy: Larsen showed it could start playing a TV show less than a second after you select it. The Kindle Fire TV also sports an incredibly low profile (it’s about as tall as a dime).
Larsen didn’t waste any time pointing to issues with current media boxes: Searching on the Apple TV takes forever, thanks to its simplistic remote, which only lets you type one letter at a time; and a customer review noted that Google’s Chromecast had issues with synchronizing video.
Like the competition, the Fire TV features a simple and tiny remote — but there’s a big difference: It also lets you search using voice commands, which means you don’t have to waste time typing out long search strings like on the Apple TV and Roku.
Naturally, the Fire TV sports plenty of content partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, and others. The device is powered by Android, and apps are built in HTML, so Larsen says it will be easy for other media partners to build their own apps for the Kindle Fire TV. It also sports a “Freetime” feature, which allows parents to set time limits on viewing and block access to some content.
As previously rumored, Amazon is also making gaming a big part of the Fire TV. You’ll be able to play some games using the included remote, and an upcoming app will also let you use your Android smartphone and tablet as a controller. And yes, Amazon is also offering a $40 dedicated game controller for hardcore gamers. (The final version of the controller looks a bit sleeker than the prototype we previously saw.)
In addition to offering third-party games like Minecraft and titles from EA, Amazon will also create its own games. Mike Frazzini, Amazon’s games head, showed off the company’s first title at the event: Sev Zero, a third-person sci-fi shooter.
Clearly, Amazon is trying to repeat part of the success it has seen with its Kindle Fire tablet, which serves a dual purpose as an electronic catalog for Amazon’s products and services, as well as a cheap Android tablet. But given the amount of competition out there and Amazon’s tardiness to the market, it’ll be interesting to see if consumers actually bite.