Amazon has entered the set-top box market with the Fire TV, and it's clear that the world's biggest retailer is betting on technology rather than cut-throat pricing.
The $99 price point for the Fire TV is nothing to write home about. Google's Chromecast is a third of this price, while the Roku 3 and the Apple TV are both $99, just like the Fire TV. Instead for firesale pricing (which many were expecting), Amazon has chosen to pack a lot of cutting-edge technology into its black box.
At the heart of the Fire TV is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC platform featuring a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Krait 300 and a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU. This beats the single core found in both the Apple TV and Chromecast, and the dual-core chip found inside the Roku 3. According to Amazon, the processor package offers over 3x the processing power present inside the other devices.
The inclusion of this SoC is also another big win for Qualcomm.
Then there's RAM. While the other devices have to get along with 512MB, Amazon has kitted out the Fire TV with 2GB. Four times more RAM gives Amazon more headroom to make the Fire TV do more, and also space for future improvements.
Amazon is also taking audio seriously. Just as with the Kindle Fire HDX, the audio platform of the Fire TV is certified Dolby Digital Plus surround sound, something none of the competition can claim.
The Fire TV also brings what seems to be the first realistic voice search system to the living room. Voice control has been bandied about as a killer TV feature for some time now, and while devices such as the Xbox One take a stab at offering voice control, the Fire TV looks like the best offering so far.
Another strength of the Fire TV — a strength that leverages the technology inside — is games. Not only has Amazon developed a separate optional games controller, but it has more games on offer than the Roku 3 (which is the only rival offering games) and promises that thousands more and coming.
Another interesting feature of the Fire TV is the way Amazon has leveraged the Kindle Fire HDX tablet not only as a mechanism to beam content to the set-top box, but also as a second screen to display information about what's being shown. This goes above and beyond the sort of integration that iOS and Android offer with the Apple TV and Chromecast.
The set-top box market is a crowded space, but Amazon's entered it with guns blazing. Will it work? It's hard to tell, but Amazon certainly has a big enough customer base that deliver plenty of eyeballs on the product to give it a fighting chance.