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Amazon's bid for the living room: The $99 Amazon Fire TV
Amazon's bid for the living room: The $99 Amazon Fire TV
April 2, 2014 | By Mike Rose

April 2, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

At a special Amazon event today, the company finally revealed the small black box that it's been working on to slot underneath your living room television: The $99 Amazon Fire TV, which is available now.

With Amazon's living room device, the company says that it was looking to solve numerous problems with similar devices, including search and performance issues, coupled with closed ecosystems. "How do we make the complexity disappear?" the company asked, and Fire TV is apparently the answer.

According to Amazon's press release, the Fire TV comes with a quad-core processor and a dedicated GPU, the sort that you'd usually find in smartphones.

It has 2GB of RAM, dual-band Wi-fi, and it's roughly seven tenths of an inch thin -- shorter than a dime, as demonstrated during its unveiling. It also comes with a remote control that can be controlled with your voice via a microphone.

According to Amazon, the Fire TV is capable of streaming content at resolutions of up to 1080p and supports HDMI and optical audio-out, so it should support up to 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.

Fire TV console and remote

Fire TV is based on Android and HTML, and Amazon says that a "huge selection" of apps and games are already on the way for the device.

What about games?

Amazon's Peter Larsen said that games consoles these days are too expensive, and that his company is looking to fill the void between proper gaming on your TV, and a price point that is affordable -- hence the $99 price tag.

Mike Frazzini from Amazon Games subsequently took to the stage to talk about which devs are already on-board. Ubisoft, Take-Two, Disney, Gameloft, EA and Double Fine were all named, while Minecraft, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8 and Despicable Me: Minion Rush were highlights of the 100+ games Amazon claims are available on the platform at launch. The company also promises that thousands more games are coming to the Fire TV in the coming months, once the Fire TV app is released and touch-optimized games are made available.

Frazzini then revealed the Fire Game Controller, a $39.99 gamepad that comes with some Amazon Coins currency to get you started. Games will apparently cost around $1.85 on average.

He then demonstrated how the controller works with the device by booting up a Fire TV-specific port of Minecraft and giving it a quick play.

As for original IP, a third-person shooter called Sev Zero was thrown up on screen. It's apparently the first game to come out of Amazon Game Studios, Amazon's own internal game development group, and Amazon says there are plenty more Fire TV games in the works.

The Fire TV is only being sold in Amazon's U.S. store right now, though company representatives would not commit to saying that it will never be available in other regions. Gamasutra heard last year about how Amazon was preparing game developers for its upcoming living room device, which will no doubt be competing with other similar Android-based microconsoles like the Ouya and the MadCatz M.O.J.O. in the months to come.

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Kujel s
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I like the specs, the price, though I'm not to keen on the not focusing on games but will see how the all pans out in the future.

Gord Cooper
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Eh, iOS devices were never designed with games in mind, look what we did with those ;)

Matt Ployhar
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Congrats Amazon!

Now where's Apple lurking about?

David Cook
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What content does it stream? Amazon Prime membership required?

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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This will fail, not too much as Ouya, because Amazon is strong company, but it will.

Why? Because is too cheap and crappy. We need some HW with at last horsepower of Xbox360 or PS3 + some bonus (50%), which will compensate bad knowledge of performance optimalization and tool for new platform. After that with games on same level of quality like on present consoles we realy could get rid of off stupid limitation of closed platforms from Sony and MS, where you pay even for browser, skype because its is "premium feature" .

2$ dolars games are way to hell. They should choose other way, for example buy Gears of War from Epic and simple port those games to Android and show that they are competitive and platform is ready. They will struggle similarly like Nvidia with Shield.

If this new android would be closed is again fail, because they will throw away bigger Android advantage, zillion of apps and custmization possibility.

The be honnest best Android games for my are just 1 to 1 ports from PC/console games like - Carmaggedon, Bards Tale or Xcom, those are real good games otherwise i have more fun with few Dosbox and emulators than with all other mobile, casual games together.

Wes Jurica
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I'm not sure how likely this is to fail. Imagine if Roku, Apple TV or any of the other boxes that have a strong focus on media streaming also had a game controller and "real" games. If nothing else, this box will be in millions of living rooms. Amazon will have to convince owners that they should pick up the controller which may be a harder sell but, regardless, there will be a game platform with multiple ways to play in front of millions.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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We will see.

I dont think that Apple is good example. Yes they have momentaly best mobile silicon and material quality, but they are trying enslave their users through plague of restrictions (no root, no emulators, no porn, no filesystem access, no long time ago no controllers+usb3, only deploy from Mac, no flash etc..). Pay more for less freedom, no thanks.

James Coote
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If you look at tablets and phones, the biggest single use case for them is gaming, but they are always pitched on their other features, so as not to scare 'ordinary' consumers away with the stereotypical "gamer" image.

Fire TV has every chance of being massive as a casual console, and if it takes off, I could easily see it being as or more profitable than the Apple App store or PS4/Xbox One.

The interesting one is Nintendo, because it could really mean no way back to the casual audience of the Wii for Nintendo. It cuts off escape routes from the awkward no-mans land they occupy at the moment between hardcore and casual.

And as for OUYA, as much as I'm a huge fan of theirs, this makes it near impossible for them to ever get to mass market, and relegates them to having to maximise the tiny-niche they currently occupy (even if Fire TV ironically legitimises what they have been doing all along).

Christian Nutt
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Though if Sev Zero is any indication, they're not going casual at all...

Wonder what the plans are for the studios. Double Helix? Not very casual. Nor are Kim Swift or Clint Hocking casual developers... though, of course, I don't doubt that there's some flexibility (both in the definition of "casual" and what they're capable of!)

James Coote
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Maybe casual is the wrong word because it's associated with particular genres (like city builders and match 3's), rather than the audience.

Matt Heinzen
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"If you look at tablets and phones, the biggest single use case for them is gaming, but they are always pitched on their other features"

Eh, I don't buy that. My wife never uses her iPhone for gaming, and she hardly has any apps for it all. She uses it for phone calls, texting, web browsing, photos, and GPS.

Games may be the highest grossing type of app, but those revenues pale in comparison to the what people pay for their phone's built-in features.

Josh Charles
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"If you look at tablets and phones, the biggest single use case for them is gaming..."

Yes but tablets and phones don't operate in a vacuum. They can be used anywhere at any time. But depending on where they are used and the context in which they are used, there are varying degrees of competition for the user's time. While waiting in line at a store or on the train to work or at lunch, what electronic and non-electronic devices are smart phones really competing with for your time? Perhaps 1 to 2 other devices like a tablet or a book?

When at home in the living room, the amount of devices competing for the user's time increases dramatically and with some overlap. For example, besides my smart phone, I can either use my 3DS or PSP for handheld gaming or internet browsing, my tablet for internet browsing or games, my laptop for work (game programming) or live TV or movies, my PS3 for games or movies, any number of novels for reading, my cable box for TV (hockey!), my shelf for board games, or do any number of house and family related activities which will take up half my time anyway.

Context is very important and I bring this up because it's not accurate or fair to assume that just because games are wildly profitable and popular on smart phones right now that that means that success for those types of games will transfer over into the micro-console space relatively easily. Micro-consoles could very well turn out to be popular but lets wait until after the shininess wears off to see how viable these devices are for the long-term.

Phil Maxey
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I can see this succeeding, the reason is the same reason the Kindle succeeded, Amazon has huge power to push any device it get's behind. I also think this is going to force Apples hand as well.

Mike Griffin
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The Android micro-streamers and microconsoles keep on comin'.

Everyone that I interviewed back when the Ouya broke records on KS and confirmed a release: they all said to watch for Amazon entering the microconsole space.

Almost everyone agreed Amazon would let others do it first; Amazon would sit back and watch while cultivating their own streaming and Kindle game/app store spaces, and letting mobile chipsets become cheaper and more powerful.

So here we are. Another little Android TV box, running on mobile chips, that streams almost anything and plays modified tablet games with a controller, but this time it's backed by a massive sales empire and associated digital services.

This is probably the $100 Android TV box that "wins" the category, but I'm not sure what kind of scope that victory will entail over the long haul. People are pretty satisfied with a lot of their current 'living room' entertainment devices, and they happily use their tablets to fill any gaps (media/apps/services) those devices don't provide.

Bob Johnson
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CAn you stream Netflix to it?

Obviously because of Amazon's music and video services this thing will have an audience.

Not sure about this as a games machine. A 360 can be had for this much if you catch a sale. And a ton of people already own a 360 or PS3 or Wii not to mention their successors are out on the market. I don't see what could be on this console that could possibly be an experience that hasn't been or can't be played on these other platforms.

I guess it could attract a lot of casuals or parents that want to get their kids something and this would be attractive because it and the games are cheap cheap cheap. I suppose it can only make Nintendo's job harder.

The crowd that traditionally buys the PS3 or 360 consoles isn't going to go after this thing when none of the big titles that appeal to them are on there. Madden, Halo, FIFA, CoD, SkyRim, GTA, Battlefield, ... the list goes on.

And it seems like the big console makers can nip these things in the bud by offering up cheap games in addition to the big AAA games. And really they already do and have done for a good 5+ years now.

What it comes to in my mind is that as a games machine it isn't exciting. I have a Wii now a Wii U and a few 360s and a pc. Now I can play worse games or my cheap phone/tablet games on my Amazon streaming device for another $140? That doesn't get (me) out of bed. Never mind that all the games my kids or I play on the phone or tablet wouldn't really transfer over to a controller and tv screen even if they were games I would want to play on the couch and tv.

On the other hand I can see part of the market gravitating towards free and cheap even if the quality is worse. I can see parents loving the effect it has on the pocket book.

Dane MacMahon
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This will sell well for a while because of Amazon but I don't see it as a long-term success for three main reasons:

1) The kinds of games people play on phones and tablets are not the kinds of games they want to play on a TV. Similarly the kinds of people who play a lot of phone games and no others are not the kinds of people who want to play games on a TV.

2) The streaming media features literally have no value. Every single Blu ray player, smart TV, game console, laptop with an HDMI port and $30 Chromecast device can do the same things, and people probably already have one or more of those. I literally cannot fathom why anyone thinks a $100 media streaming box is some huge draw. A good blu ray player with the same features costs LESS, not more. What would I do with this device? Watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Where do I do that now? On my $80 Sony blu ray player. I have no use for this device.

3) It's too cheaply made. If you want to be the middleground between a phone and a PS4 why not actually be that? Charge $199 and put a little more oomph in there, maybe go PC instead of Android and leverage your existing PC game store? Make the controller look like something that would feel good to hold. A cheap $99 gaming device doesn't attract anyone from the gaming community or the tech loving community.

In short all the same problems the Ouya had, but now Amazon are putting their name behind it. I don't think names make up for everything in the long term. It's actually a decent value for what it is, and I bet a lot of executives focused on that, but you also have to focus on "why would someone buy it?" I don't think it passes that test beyond Amazon fans.

Bob Johnson
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BE cool if you could put 2 in parallel to get you more oomph. OR if they just sold wafer-thin gpu modules that you could stack on top of the main unit. All hooked together via Thunderbolt or something.

James Coote
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"1) The kinds of games people play on phones and tablets are not the kinds of games they want to play on a TV. Similarly the kinds of people who play a lot of phone games and no others are not the kinds of people who want to play games on a TV."

It's entirely up to the designer to create a game that is suitable for both the control scheme, context/location in which the game is being played, and the target audience.

Just because touch/on-the-train/casual works for mobile games, doesn't mean a game designed for console/living-room/casual won't (if it's designed accordingly) work on a microconsole.

Dane MacMahon
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It's a hypothesis, not research, but I don't see my wife ever wanting to play her phone games on a TV and I bet most people like her are the same. Similarly I play stuff on my phone when bored in public or in the bathroom, but I would never pay real money or spend real time on them in a couch and TV setting.

Could be my age, could be unique to my household, I can't really say with authority. I am hypothesizing not however.

Who knows though? We shall see. They will sell a ton because of brand either way.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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I said same things, few post ago.

Jeff Cole
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I have a feeling this will be dead in the water when Apple unveils the next Apple TV.....wait and see.

Phil Maxey
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Everyone time someone goes to the Amazon site they are going to see a big advert for this console, do you really think even if Apple upgrade Apple TV that's going to stop the success of this?

Daniel Jeppsson
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Looks good but they should have bundled the gamepad!

Pallav Nawani
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I really don't like the low game price point. If this takes off it will put severe pressure on console game prices.

Mike Griffin
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We have more variety in console game prices than ever; there's already some outstanding stuff on console storefronts at a low price point.

Will the major Fire TV game releases (perhaps from the big names they've signed recently) be impressive enough to consumers such that their relatively low prices put pressure on PS4, XB1 and Wii U to lower their typical 'major release' price points? I doubt it.

They also have the physical retail angle to "justify" (another discussion) the typical prices of major game releases, unlike Fire -- pure digital.

Fire TV is the Amazon ecosystem in a Kindle store-like interface. Games will be quite important, but not central. Will the service's generally low (mobile-style) price points on games put pressure on Sony, MS and Nintendo to lower digital-only game prices on their own services? Again, probably not.

We're over a generation into established (and rather flexible) price points of downloadable titles on gaming-centric consoles, and Fire TV probably doesn't encroach on this territory.

Ujn Hunter
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I guess people will buy this... it would serve no purpose to someone like me though. I can already do everything this does by using any one of the 20 different boxes already hooked to my TVs. I guess if I just bought my first TV this would be useful, wait... if I just bought my first TV it would probably have these features already. Nevermind. It will sell, it's Amazon. It's just useless to someone like me. Makes me sad that Sony hasn't released the Vita TV here in the U.S. yet though. Maybe they won't do it now? :\

Jarod Smiley
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I think Sony is still building up there IPTV service and gearing for PS Now...Needs to be some type of differentiation from all the other boxes out there.

I also don't understand why they don't re-brand there Xperia tablets and call them Playstation tablets, put a Vita chip in there and ship it with a controller. Access to Both PSN/Android store for games, seems like a no-brainer to me with all the stats about gaming usage on tablets today...

Sony much too slow with all there software services as usual, hopefully they don't wait too long, IPTV with live channels sounded really cool.

Jamie Mann
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Hmm. It'll be interesting to see where this goes. To summarise the key points from a gaming perspective:
a) The remote control uses bluetooth, so doesn't need line-of-sight
b) The remote control has a microphone in it, but doesn't appear to have any motion-control capabilities, or any touchscreen capabilities
c) The "traditional" controllers have to be bought separately at $40 apiece, and look to be quite bulky (relatively speaking)
d) A "smartphone/tablet" can be used to control games, but there's no indication as to whether this includes iOS and/or Windows Phone
e) It's based on Android

Personally, I suspect it's not going to catch on that well as a gaming device, for the simple reason that developers are going to have to code their games to support the lowest-common-denominator controller, the remote control. That's not particularly ergonomic and it doesn't lend itself to games with complex controls - and neither does it lend itself well to the "touchscreen" controls used by most Android games.

(then too, as a bluetooth device, the remote's going to drain batteries far quicker than an IR device!)

There's also the question as to how interested people will be in having "mobile" games on a TV; the Fire should be able to generate graphics on par with an Xbox 360 (give or take some), but the gameplay design of mobile devices is very different to that of home-console gaming.

To be fair, I'd guess that gaming is something of a secondary concern for Amazon: while it's an important item on the marketing check-list, this device is first and foremost intended to generate revenue from streaming media...

Bob Johnson
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Plus people already have a console gaming device. They have a 360 or PS3 or Wii or one of their successors. That's a big reason why, as a gaming machine, I don't see the appeal to anyone that has one of these machines.

And if most are buying as a streaming device they aren't going to have a reason to upgrade it so where does that leave it as the gaming platform of the future?

On the other hand cheap and free games.