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Amazon announces FireTV set-top box that doubles as a games console

Tom Morgan
2 Apr 2014
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Amazon has taken its first steps into the set-top box market with Fire TV, an Android-powered box that isn't tied to one content provider and also plays games

Amazon has officially fired the first shots against established TV set-top box providers such as Sky and Virgin Media with FireTV, the company's first device designed for the living room.

The reveal was made at an event in New York earlier today by Amazon's Peter Larson, who introduced the set-top box alongside a host of upcoming Amazon Studios original TV programmes. According to Larson, Amazon is selling millions of streaming media devices, but they all have three main problems: search, performance and closed ecosystems. FireTV looks to combat these with powerful internals, a remote with integrated voice control, and third party app support, including Netflix and Hulu in the US.

Amazon FireTV

Amazon Fire TV - image credit: The Verge

The set-top box is powered by a quad-core processor, paired with 2GB of RAM (at least double the amount usually found in a set-top box) and a dedicated GPU. According to Amazon it's three times as powerful as an Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast. Naturally it supports 1080p video over HDMI, but can also manage dolby digital surround over optical S/PDIF. Internet connectivity comes in the form of dual-band, dual-antenna MiMO Wi-Fi, which should help prevent much-hated buffering - assuming your internet connection is up to the task.

FireTV's interface takes more than a few design cues from Amazon's Kindle Fire range and is apparently based on Android, except the layout has been reformatted for the big screen. Your content is divided into sections, with third party apps interspersed with Amazon content. An "ASAP" feature predicts which programmes you'll want to watch, then queues them up for caching so they are ready to watch instantly, without having to wait for them to buffer first. IMDB ratings are shown for films, letting you decide whether they are worth watching.

Amazon FireTV interface

The FireTV interface - image credit: The Verge

The box supports Amazon's Cloud Drive, letting you display any photos taken with a smartphone on your TV, and includes X-Ray for movies and TV shows. It's the same feature as the one built into the Kindle Fire HDX, which pulls information about the cast and crew of a particular show from IMDB, updating to reflect the characters onscreen. It also works for music, displaying the lyrics onscreen for impromptu Karaoke sessions. There's even a mode specifically for kids called FreeTime, which lets parents limit the list of available shows.

Amazon FireTV game controller

remember that leaked controller that appeared online last month? Turns out it was right on the money

FireTV will also play games. Following Amazon's acquisition of Killer Instinct developer Double Helix Games rumours began spreading that Amazon's set-top box would include gaming content. Those rumours were validated today, although anyone hoping for an Xbox One or PS4 rival will be disappointed: FireTV will play smartphone-quality games. Even so, there are some big names already confirmed, including Disney, Gameloft, EA, Sega, Ubisoft and Double Fine. Amazon will be developing its own games too, with the first being third person shooter Sev Zero. You'll be able to play games using the FireTV remote, or your tablet using an app. There will also be a dedicated Fire game controller, which will launch as an optional $40 accessory rather than come bundled with the device.

FireTV is going on sale from today in North America, for $99 - roughly £60. There's currently no indication as to when, or indeed if, Amazon will bring FireTV to the UK. With support for third party streaming services and the potential to install others as Android apps it would certainly have some appeal on this side of the Atlantic, but we'll have to wait for an official announcement to know whether we're in line to receive the set-top box when it launches in the coming weeks.

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