Amazon entered the streaming video market on Wednesday with its unveiling of Fire TV, a set top box more powerful and complex than the product some expected would resemble Google’s Chromecast streaming video dongle.
The new device announced during an event in New York City has more three times the processing power and four times the memory space of competing video devices including Google’s Chromecast or the Apple TV, the company said in a news release. The Fire TV is available now for $99, on par with the $99 price for the high-definition Apple TV minicomputer, but more than the $35 price for Google’s simpler, Bluetooth-enabled Chromecast.
The company’s Fire TV takes an ”open approach” that provides Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also services including Netflix and Hulu Plus, said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the release.
Voice search also allows the device users to speak the name of a show or details including the actor and director into the remote to search for programs, Bezos said. Voice search technology has been tried for TV products by other companies including Sony with mixed results. The Fire TV can also predict what shows viewers might want to watch with a feature called Advanced Streaming and Prediction, or ASAP.
“Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid,” Bezos said. “Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly.”
The new device brings Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet convenience to the next level connecting Amazon cloud service to a television to display personal photos and videos on the screen. Parental control features called Free Time help set what shows kids can watch and what time of day they can watch programs. Fire TV also features games built for the system, the first of which is futuristic third-person shooter “Sev Zero,” available for $6.99 or for free with the purchase of a Fire game controller.
Demand for digital video is growing, with 186.2 million viewers in the U.S. alone in 2013, an 8.5 percent increase from 2012, according to eMarketer research firm. In 2014, eMarketer predicts viewership will increase 4.5 percent to reach 194.5 million, or 77.3 percent of all U.S. Internet users. Digital video ad spending in the U.S. increased 44.5 percent in 2013 to $4.18 billion, according to eMarketer, up from $2.89 billion in 2012. That figure is expected to increase another 41 percent in 2014 to total $5.89 billion.