Amazon unveils fireTV streaming media device
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Amazon wants to be the brain inside your big-screen TV.
On Wednesday the company introduced a box called Amazon fireTV that enables television sets to access Internet programming, including streaming shows from its Amazon Prime subscription service. The remote control for the device includes a voice recognition search feature, so a user can speak the name a show, actor or topic and find that content.
Importantly for Amazon, the device doubles as a casual gaming console; the company says it will have a library of thousands of games available to users. Amazon announced a gaming controller that will sell for $39.99.
With the device, Amazon joins competitors like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Roku that want to power consumers’ TV-watching, replacing (or — more likely — supplementing) the set top boxes from cable and satellite companies that sit in most living rooms.
The device may help advance Amazon’s streaming TV ambitions. The company has started to introduce original shows, like “Alpha House” and “Betas,” and has spent handsome sums of money to secure exclusive rights to other shows, like past seasons of Fox’s “24.” But its streaming service is a fraction of the size of Netflix.
At a press event in Manhattan, Amazon differentiated fireTV by reading snippets of negative user reviews of other streaming media gadgets from Amazon.com. The complaints called out competitors like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and Vizio by name.
The company said it had identified three big issues that make streaming devices “too frustrating:” inadequate search tools, sluggish performance and closed ecosystems of apps.
Peter Larsen, an Amazon vice president, said fireTV specifically addressed gripes with dongles like Google Chromecast and boxes like Apple TV.
He called the new device “tiny” and “incredibly powerful.”
One feature, called ASAP, predicts what TV episodes a user might watch next, and “queues them up so that they start instantly,” Larsen said.
To underscore the point that fireTV doesn’t just exist to support its Amazon Prime service, the demonstration showed off non-Amazon programs like NBC’s “Chicago Fire.”
“It’s the easiest place to watch Netflix,” Larsen said pointedly.
But the event also included a highlight reel for Amazon Studios’ original shows, including a second season of “Alpha House,” which is in production now.
“Customers are loving these shows,” Larsen said.
Amazon also highlighted fireTV’s easy access to its children’s programming interface, called FreeTime, and music and photos.