After months of rumours, Amazon have finally revealed their first major foray into the lounge. Amazon Fire TV is tiny and powerful, a quad-core set top box with 2GB of RAM crammed into a chassis that can snuggle into a one hand, designed to unobtrusively slot beside your existing AV setup. Packing HDMI, optical audio, robust voice commands, second-screen functionality and a range of entertainment services, it's gunning for 'all in one' appeal at a fraction of the cost. Specifically, $99.
Naturally Fire TV will take full advantage of Amazon's streaming entertainment services, alongside the likes of Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo and regional content providers, but the diminutive device also has some serious gaming chops.
A pleasingly chunky controller (sold separately) turns the set top box into a console, with the likes of Double Helix, Portal co-creator Kim Swift and Far Cry 2 producer Clint Hocking all headhunted to develop exclusive games and oversee the ecosystem. Even Notch has pledged to deliver an exclusive version of Minecraft. As an Android-based console with locked-down specs, developers will be able to quickly optimise their existing games for the platform too.
Exciting stuff... but can Fire TV successfully go toe-to-toe with the big boys on their own living room turf - and compete with any number of Android tablets that offer HDMI streaming? Is the market big enough for another Android micro-console? Big questions demand big answers, so we've got together for a bit of a virtual chinwag from three different perspectives.
Jon: "Why bother? Why not."
"Oh gawd, not another Android micro-console."
I actually said those words out-loud as I browsed through the newly released specifications. As we saw with the plucky but struggling OUYA, there isn't really much of a market for a little box that plays games you'd normally enjoy on your phone or tablet, especially when many of those devices already support TV output and Google Play provides a more comprehensive software selection. What's the point? Why bother?
The short answer, it turns out, is probably "why not." See, Amazon have been very careful to prepare for the biggest problems facing their rivals, having the money and infrastructure to pull it off. Their shrewd poaching of Clint Hocking, Kim Swift and Double Helix will just be the first step into delivering exclusive games - the key issue surrounding the Android ecosystem. Though great as a mobile OS, Android absolutely doesn't provide the quality we need -- nay, demand -- for a living room console, but Amazon are one step ahead. Naturally there'll be plenty of familiar faces and freebies to browse too, powered by a reputable and trustworthy marketplace who know how to promote discovery.
And, of course, Fire TV isn't just a micro-console. It's an entertainment hub and media centre that perfectly fits into the services we already use, based on the Amazon accounts we already have, and granting access to content many of us already own. Its voice command functionality is also rather exciting, especially since it makes the Xbox One's entertainment functionality look slightly obsolete.
Don't get me wrong: I'm still not sold. At all. A Kindle Fire HDX or beefy Android tablet offers practically the same functionality, capable of being plugged into your telly via HDMI and synced with a third-party controller, except that you can then unplug it and take it to work. I'm not convinced that the game selection will be worth buying a new platform for, especially if it just offers ports of Android games that feel less impressive on a big TV than a smartphone's touchscreen beyond a handful of exclusives. And, hell, Smart TVs already do most of the heavy lifting themselves without the need for yet another box.
Hurry up and confirm the UK price point, Amazon. Then we'll talk business.
Carl: "Amazon are huge, so the device will do fine"
Having been drowning in coverage from last weekend’s Rezzed for most of this week, I haven’t really paid that much attention to the Amazon Fire TV bar a few tweets that have come my way. As such, I’m probably not going to be offering wisdom on this particular topic today, but my quick thoughts are this – Amazon are huge, and so the device will do absolutely fine in terms of exposure and audience.
Using the Fire brand and advertising its link to the Kindle and Amazon Prime Video is a great move, so I expect out of all of the media boxes currently on the market it will do well, at least with the general consumers.
From a gaming perspective, it could provide that middle ground the Ouya was searching for, being both affordable and having Amazon’s brand power behind it to make sure people know it is a thing. That said, not including a controller with each unit sold does perhaps suggest the gaming scene, while certainly an aspect they wish to engage in (otherwise they wouldn’t have bought Double Helix), isn’t their primary concern for the device’s launch. We might see more focus on it moving forward, but right now it isn’t really making me excited.
Then again, I’ve never really seen the draw of the microconsoles.
Matt: "The box won't change the world... BUT"
"This is absolutely not a game console," said Amazon's Kindle VP Pete Larsen. "This isn't trying to be a console, but we do think there's a great opportunity there in between a console and a smartphone for fun, quality games."
Is there? Really?
We've been trying to work this out for some time, and the conclusion that we came to was that Android TV microconsoles suck. There's just no need for them these days thanks to a wide variety of phones and tablets and TVs that offer multimedia and gaming options, often with Bluetooth support for a wide range of controllers, connected either wirelessly or via HDMI.
The question is simple: What can Fire TV bring to the table that others can't? Well, Amazon have been steadily amassing developers and seeking to offer unique, top quality exclusives on the service, but it's still going to be a hard sell. Can Amazon produce better games than their pretty mediocre original TV shows? Only time will tell.
As a multimedia device it looks pretty damn awesome, purposefully fixing issues and common complaints that surround the likes of Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast. The voice search, by all accounts, is pretty efficient, the range of services and the open nature of the platform are big plus points, and Amazon have some serious clout. But without playing around with one, I can't see straight off why I'd get one if I already have a console or a smart TV or actually just a standard Kindle Fire.
The US price is $99, which is around £60, but I doubt very much that the UK price point will sit that low. And then there's the fact that the controller is not a pack-in (you do get a little remote, but you'll need to fork out an extra $40 for the OnLive-esque gamepad).
I wasn't sold on Android microconsoles with the Ouya, the GameStick, or the MOJO, and I'm not sold on this. The box won't change the world, but the service might...if Amazon decide to go down that route.