$99 Amazon Fire TV Now Shipping! (With Kindle Mirroring)

Dave Zatz —  April 3, 2014 — 51 Comments

amazon-fire-tv

As most know, I’ve been tracking the Amazon streamer for some time — turning up a Best Buy planogram as the first hard proof of its existence, followed by regulatory filings of the dual-band box itself and curious Bluetooth gaming controller. Of course, the devil is in the details, with complete capabilities and pricing eluding us until launch. Fortunately, Amazon has moved on from the awful “Firetube” and settled on the much more palatable Fire TV. And the $99 box is shipping now! (Which is really how all product announcements should go.)

While Fire TV lands at the higher end of category pricing (for 2014), Amazon touts voice search of Amazon content via remote along with quad core processing and dedicated GPU, suitable for handling Android gaming via the aforementioned controller accessory ($40). Dozens of apps are available immediately, including Netflix, Pandora, and Plex, yet we can expect many more making an appearance over the next few months. Further, Amazon Instant is present and features pre-caching to speed up access via something they’re calling ASAP – Advanced Streaming and Prediction. Additionally, Kindle Fire HDX screen mirroring is built-in - assuming it performs well, this functionality will help overcome any initial app limitations by beaming both visuals and audio from one’s Amazon tablet to the television. Sadly, the Fire TV doesn’t appear to be an agnostic Miracast endpoint.

As to other features that might set Fire TV apart from the Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV, Amazon’s entrant is the first to truly provide a dedicated kids area. And, while maybe a small detail, like Amazon’s like of Kindle e-readers, Fire TV comes pre-linked to one’s Amazon account.

Is Fire TV worth $99? Does it supplant the competition? I don’t have those answers yet. But you best believe I gots one on order and intend to put it thru its paces.

51 responses to $99 Amazon Fire TV Now Shipping! (With Kindle Mirroring)

  1. There are too many of these things now… Should I put it on top of my TiVo next to my Apple TV and Roku? The idea is less boxes, not more.
    I’m mildly interested, but at this point the market is saturated and I think Amazon is just too late to the game for me to get one.

  2. I ordered one, hoping that it has the ability for either IP control or IR so that I dont have to use the amazon remote exclusively. Would love to throw this in the rack in the basement and share it throughout the house.

    HBO Go and Plex could definitely seal the deal on this being the one box though to replace my Roku box and possibly even the apple tv.

  3. Mike, it does have Plex support right off the bat. No HBO GO yet, though. HBO has been cagey about supporting it. But it does have quite a bit of app (and game) support day one.

    That’s cool it has standard(?) Miracast instead of something proprietary with the Kindle Fire. Wonder if it has or will have DIAL support too. That could push it over the edge.

    I’m still going to wait for Dave’s review before spending my Amazon gift certificate on it. :-)

  4. Given the Android underpinnings, I’m expect a ton of new apps very soon — with more complexity and capabilities than Roku’s limited SDK provides. Details on Amazon’s platform here (and, yes, Glenn DIAL is supported).

  5. The weirdest day one omission by far is the Amazon MP3 cloud player. It’s on Roku, but not the Amazon box!

    Along with other missing stuff, it all seems to lead to the conclusion that if you want a streamer to use right now, then a Roku 3 is still your best bet. But give Amazon time to do a software iteration of two, bringing more channels, and that equation may quickly change.

    (Dave, you are free to use that last paragraph as your summation of your review.)

    —–

    My basic take:

    In the OTT streamer market, we’re approaching the ‘iPod moment’ in the MP3 player market, back when the field was crowded, but was ripe for consolidation.

    And the Fire TV is the iPod in this ‘iPod moment’. It’s got much better specs, much better buffering, a much better remote, and likely a much higher BOM, in all these excessive ways that are highly reminiscent of how the original iPod took over the MP3 player market. Remember the 1.8″ hard drive and the huge amount of flash memory for buffering?

    (The major difference, of course, being that Apple wanted big margins and Amazon doesn’t care about margins.)

    So, my best guess is that the overwhelming hardware quality advantage wins out, (along with Amazon’s willingness to let you consume its media on non-Amazon hardware, making it a more compelling media store than Cupertino’s, just like it works for books.) Or as Beavis would say in the infamously censored episode, “Fire! Fire! Heh, heh. Fire!”

  6. I haven’t really seen anyone mention it, but from what I can tell, the GPU is less powerful than what they’re offering on their HDX tablets. Seems shortsighted as these devices normally have a longer refresh cycle than phones or tablets. I’m wondering if that’s because they originally wanted to launch several months ago or just a victim of pricing. Anyhoo, mine’s on a truck to be delivered today, I’m hoping a VUDU app shows up soon.

  7. Tyler, probably cost consideration and not sure if the HDX’s higher screen resolution has any bearing. Also, can one assume they save some processing as the TV itself renders the image?

    Chucky, yeah not sure what’s up with Amazon’s Cloud Player. Guess that team wasn’t able to deliver on time, as I can’t imagine they intended to launch without it. I probably agree on the conclusion piece… obviously without having touched it yet and not yet interested in its gaming capabilities. Roku’s flirted with Miracast, if/when they pull the trigger that could change things. I can’t imagine Amazon would be this dickish, but they could also pull their Roku apps… instead, what will likely happen, is they won’t see the dev effort Amazon’s streamer will (or TiVo for that matter). Airplay is still Apple’s secret weapon, tho, and has some value for me. Long term, you’re probably right Amazon (and Apple) will eclipse Roku – they’ve got limitless funds and an ecosystem. But most of us have many TVs and there are many TVs without streamers so there’s room for multiple competitive devices. (I will say Amazon’s remote looks better than Apple TV and Roku.)

  8. The firetv has the full android/googletv Plex experience, which is substantially superior to the roku. If it allows sideloading, and gets XBMC, I may get one to replace one of my roku3s.

    My main complaint is the remote; it is bluetooth only and can’t turn on my TV or control the volume. So no universal remote. This means that EVERYBODY using a firetv will be forced to use two remotes. That’s not a great experience, and it’s the main thing holding me back.

  9. Its nice to see the spec’s bump up. I have 7 streaming devices feeding three displays already (not counting computers and tablets), so I am not feeling the yearning to pick up another box. Perhaps reviews will convince me otherwise.

  10. “I can’t imagine Amazon would be this dickish, but they could also pull their Roku apps…”

    I don’t think it’s a matter of dickishness or not. I think it’s in Amazon’s interest to continue supporting non-Amazon hardware with their media store. Works for ebooks, and works for video. Hardware agnosticism in selling media is one of their core advantages over Cupertino. If anything, I’d guess Amazon likes having Roku around. After all, it’s pretty unlikely they’re making money by selling Fire TV hardware.

    “Airplay is still Apple’s secret weapon, tho, and has some value for me.”

    Of course. It’s always been their core weapon for the teevee box. But given the Android / iOS market share trends, it seems a declining weapon. I’d be very unsurprised to see Amazon achieve clear dominance over Apple in the teevee box space within a year or two. (Unless, of course, Apple can do some kind of crazy exclusive deal like the Comcast rumor and get it by the regulators. Eddy Cue is Apple’s real potential nuclear weapon.)

  11. Just don’t mistake it for Fyre TV.
    Another set top box from a few years back for the NSFW crowd.

  12. Airplay doesn’t really matter now that we have DIAL, which is not chromecast-specific. The roku supports it too; I play a movie in youtube or netflix and hit the button, and it plays on my roku. Since both youtube and netflix mandate usage of their HTML5 apps on non-grandfathered platforms, I betcha this works on the firetv too.

    Miracast is terrible technology. Airplay tech is fine, but it’s apple-specific. DIAL is the future.

  13. “Airplay doesn’t really matter now that we have DIAL”

    AirPlay and Miracast matter for delivering user-generated content to the teevee…

  14. Not sure what you mean by user-generated content. Plex can play pretty much everything, and it works with DIAL. Otherwise just upload your videos to youtube, everybody else does.

  15. “Not sure what you mean by user-generated content. Plex can play pretty much everything, and it works with DIAL. Otherwise just upload your videos to youtube, everybody else does.”

    Put yourself in the shoes of a civilian. They are most of the population, y’know. Otherwise, everyone would have a TiVo.

    So, you take photos or shoot video on your phone or tablet, and you want to show it off on your teevee. Is a civilian going to find the easiest method, Plex, YouTube, or just beaming the device to the teevee via AirPlay / Miracast?

  16. What?!?! No Amazon Cloud player? All my Android devices have it as well as my Roku boxes. That is very surprising that an Amazon streamer would not have their Amazon Cloud Player.

  17. “What?!?! No Amazon Cloud player?”

    As Dave (correctly) notes, I think it’ll show up in quite short order. But it is pretty humorous in the meantime…

  18. Airplay doesn’t really matter now that we have DIAL, which is not chromecast-specific.

    Rodalpho, it’s not that simple as a custom stub app of some sort is required on the end-point – unlike Airplay and Miracast. Otherwise, TiVo would be so much more interesting…

    Pol, I’m wondering if Fyre is still in business and/or if Amazon sorted things with them. Or maybe they straight up traded up their Firetube trademark for Fire TV. ;) (We used to have references to that product here, but received Google warnings related to adult content and the practical decision was to pull the content.)

  19. Airplay perhaps, but miracast barely works. And of course there are apps like Allcast that will play anything on anything.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.koushikdutta.cast

  20. Amazon Fire TV wows Gary Busey, but analyst says Apple and Roku shouldn’t fret

    Amazon Fire TV, the company’s first hardware product since it rolled out the Kindle Fire tablet three years ago, is entering an increasingly competitive arena featuring such products as Roku, Apple’s Apple TV and Google Inc.’s Chromecast. Should those incumbent players worry? Not really, according to Forrester analyst Jim Nail, who says that, based on an examination of the device itself, Amazon Fire TV “is kind of a run-of-the-mill, undifferentiated offering compared to those other guys.”

    http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2014/04/02/amazon-fire-tv-wows-gary-busey-but-analyst-says-apple-and-roku-shouldnt-fret/

  21. Bryan, I fixed the bold formatting tag and once again slimmed down your excerpt – Google may penalize due to duplicated content and it’s generally not nice to cut & paste such a large chuck of someone else’s work. Thanks!

  22. Okay, I’m pretty convinced. I’ve got Apple TV’s and TiVo’s everywhere already. I’ve got one Roku we only use for accessing Amazon content and its unimpressive. Its an older generation box that I haven’t felt like upgrading. I have one ChromeCast right now but feel like I need to buy one for each TV. Something has got to give.

    If Amazon had simply offered Chromecast support for iOS/Android apps it would be easier–I could just put Chromecasts on all the TV’s and be nearly done. And that’s still something I would expect and still want from them. Them make all their money from the content purchase/rentals, not the device sales, though obviously the lock-in of the devices is still something to think about.

    I think my Roku’s days are numbered, and I’ll be getting one of these Fire TV’s in short order. If the DIAL support pans out I can forget the ChromeCast, and simply outfit all the TVs with Apple and Fire and be done for now. In the long run, if Apple doesn’t respond by a) speeding up their box, b) improving their remote control, c) adding voice support, d) opening up the platform to developers or at least vastly improving the number of apps available then I think Chucky’s right.

    Its crunch time in dongle land. Now where’s my Beavis ‘n Butt Head remote?

    p.s. If you’ve got an android phone and a Fire TV, does it have one button or two (Miracast and DIAL)?

  23. “Now where’s my Beavis ‘n Butt Head remote?”

    Right here, I believe…

  24. Roku toast? I don’t think so, they have been around before netflix streaming, I have their original box, about the size of a bd player.

    The pricing on this device is misguided, it needs to be less than Apple or Roku, not the same. I don’t think it will sell well, but we will never know as they do not release sales results. Why is there only one device, where it the $50 version?

    As a prime member, I wondered if there would be one at my door today, there was not. I do not see a reason to replace my Roku or Chromecast. I am deep into the Amazon ecosystem, so I should be their target customer, but they are way too late to the game.

  25. To me, the important thing is that Amazon is creating a way for people to put any app on your TV. Roku kind of has something like this, but you have to think that Amazon put the processing power in this box to support apps and open content. You can see Apple working toward this but the way Amazon is doing this, will allow them to grow much faster in the next 12 months.

  26. Nothing that exciting about this, since both my TVs have Tivo, Apple TV, and Roku….

  27. Greg, the Roku story arc is more complex and interesting than that. Founder Anthony Wood left Roku to head up Netflix’s streaming box business. At some point, the plan shifted to something more agnostic with Anthony rejoining Roku taking like 20 or 30 developers from Netflix and several million in Netflix money to re-fund the ailing company – the product they’d been working on became the first Roku Netflix streamer (which is different from the box you reference). It’s too bad TechCrunch didn’t get this in their recent retrospective, as the Netflix/Roku pivot is quite fascinating. Also the decision to rebuff Amazon’s advances and why they even had a product launch this week.

  28. Greg has a good point: why aren’t these given or discounted for Prime subscribers? Or just less expensive for everyone?

    I’m sure there’s a good reason (like Amazon can only lose so much money on loss leaders), but it still seems weird.

  29. “why aren’t these given or discounted for Prime subscribers? Or just less expensive for everyone?”

    Probably because there is a limit to how much they want to lose on each sale.

    (Also, I don’t think Prime has a positive margin for Amazon.)

    The Roku dude made a big point last week of asserting that Apple TV was being sold at a loss, and I think it’s quite safe to say that the Fire has a significantly higher BOM than the Apple TV.

    So, if they’re spending $150 to make each one, (a totally uninformed guess, just working off the Roku assertion, and the significantly higher BOM of the Fire), and if Apple and Roku are both selling their boxes for $99, I can understand Amazon’s desire not to undercut the market in order to lose even more on each box. (I don’t know if it’s the smartest strategy or not, but that’s a different question.)

    Of course, if Apple were to lower its price, I’d strongly assume they’d match overnight, as they did with the Kindle when B&N dropped prices. Or, if sales come in under projections, one would also assume they’ll drop prices. And, of course, they’ll likely lower prices over time. Don’t forget the original Kindle debuted at $399.

  30. “Now where’s my Beavis ‘n Butt Head remote?”

    Don’t forget that for those with more discriminating taste in premium-cable channel choices than Dave, there’s a new Mike Judge project debuting on Sunday. Woo-hoo!

  31. Bryan, I fixed the bold formatting tag and once again slimmed down your excerpt – Google may penalize due to duplicated content and it’s generally not nice to cut & paste such a large chuck of someone else’s work. Thanks!

    Thanks Dave. I’m a WYSIWYG person and no preview button throws me off. :) I will try and spend some time slimming down my cut and pastes. I didn’t realize it was considered bad manners to post a large article as I was just trying to make it easier for the person reading it ( i.e. one less link to click). But I get that traffic is the lifeblood of net. Thx -Bryan

  32. Everybody’s working for the Google
    Everybody wants Google’s graces, hey yeah
    Everybody’s going off the deep end
    Everybody needs a second chance, oh

    You want a piece of my traffic?
    You better start from the start
    You want to be in the search results?
    C’mon baby, let’s go

  33. Mine arrived early this afternoon. Here are some initial thoughts after playing around with it for a couple of hours:

    (For comparison purposes, I also have a PS3, a Tivo HD, and an AppleTV.)

    * It was very easy to set up; just plug all the cords in. I was a bit annoyed that it had to download and install several software updates for a product that has been out for just 2 days… (took about 10 min.) Also a bit annoying was the overly long intro video. Also also, it’s kind of silly that major apps like Netflix aren’t installed by default.

    * For streaming Amazon Instant Video content, it is very good. Certainly a far sight better than my only other option for getting AIV content to the big screen TV, the PS3.

    * Netflix streaming is okay, looks like a basic tablet implementation on the big screen. Annoyingly no way (that I could find) of accessing “My List.” Also annoyed that apparently I have to choose if I want regular or kiddie Netflix every time I start the app. IMHO, AppleTV is still the superior Netflix implementation.

    * Hulu implementation is fine, probably a smidge better than on AppleTV. Also, the AIV search and browse feature will show when an episode is available on Hulu+ (odd that this is not also available for episodes available on Netflix). This is important because:

    * The vaunted voice search feature, while it works fairly well, only searches the AIV offerings. So if you want to use voice search for Netflix or any other service you are out of luck.

    * The Flixster app would not serve up any movies in HD; I constantly got the message that HD streaming was not available for that title at the present time.

    * A general comment: for all that entering emails and passwords into these devices for the various services is a chore using those awful pop-up keyboards, why cant these things figure out that if I’m using an email address for one service, I’m probably using it for all of them, and auto-enter it for me after the first time?

  34. “Also, the AIV search and browse feature will show when an episode is available on Hulu+”

    Significant!

    I was beginning to worry the search function was Amazon-only by policy diktat.

    Now, I have more confidence that search will become more Roku-like over time.

  35. “The vaunted voice search feature, while it works fairly well, only searches the AIV offerings.”

    If this means voice search doesn’t search Hulu+, then scratch my previous comment.

  36. “Now where’s my Beavis ‘n Butt Head remote?”

    Actually, this is what I was referring to:

    http://www.amazon.com/This-Sucks-Change-Beavis-Butthead/dp/0671536338

    I don’t recall reading the book, but I certainly used the remote a bunch… I wonder where I lost it?

    I’d compare Fire TV here with the Samsung Android phones. They aren’t necessarily the best phones, but they sell the most because they’re familiar and they push them with LOTS of advertising. Now I don’t know if Amazon will be doing a big TV push, but they’ll probably be featuring the things on Amazon.com a lot. So while YOU might not be buying one of these things, they really shouldn’t have that much trouble surpassing Roku…

  37. “Actually, this is what I was referring to”

    Obscure For The Win!

  38. @Chucky: The voice search only searches AIV, *but* when you browse or search AIV it shows which episodes are available to watch on Hulu+. Sorry for the lack of clarity; it’s a bit confusing to describe…

  39. In some limited testing, I’m pretty sure this is NOT an agnostic Miracast end-point. :/ Will tweak the article.

  40. BestBuy had the FireTVs in stock today. Online and locally for me. Too bad the sales people were clueless. They had no idea what it was. A trip inside the store that should have taken five minutes took twenty five. Once I looked up the SKU They saw that they had thirty in stock but none out on the floor. SO they had to figure out where the FireTVs were.

    I will say the FireTV is very, fast. Navigation is super quick. Even the initial firmware update was fast. It was downloaded and installed in under three minutes.

    Of course the app selection is severely lacking right now, but at least the Amazon Prime player is the best and fastest I’ve seen from all my devices.

    My only real complaint is with the remote. It is too small. My hands started to ache after awhile from all the info I had to enter to sign into the apps. At least I shouldn’t need to do that again. So that should help me use the remote less.

    I did notice the FireTV outputs in RGB, but so do the Rokus. This will certainly be my goto box for viewing Amazon videos. I just wish they had the Amazon Cloud Player. Since all my music is stored in the Amazon cloud. I guess I’ll need to continue using my ROku 3 for that.

    If the price were lower I would get a second one(or if I hadn’t used up all my reward Zone Dollars purchasing this one), but I will only be using the one FireTV in my main viewing area and continue using my Sony BD players or Rokus for Amazon video playback in my other TV locations.

  41. I received mine and like it. Speedy, simple, and like the potential games and more open platform.
    Bummed about lack of Bluetooth audio. Seems like too big a no brainer to not have available.

  42. How is the trickplay on the FireTV when streaming at least from Prime? My biggest complaint about all of these streaming device is that they don’t use the buffer of the local storage to handle trickplay better. I know it has some autocache to handle playing recommended shows, but I didn’t know if it had any effect on the actual streaming and rewinding/fast forwarding.

  43. You can skip forward and back ten seconds with every press. When I tried it i could skip forward and back pretty far and the video would start up instantly. Although I never really tested it to see how far forward back i could go to get it to buffer. I rarely saw any buffering. Out of around parts of forty titles I looked at, i only saw it buffer a couple of times, and that was at the very beginning.

  44. “You can skip forward and back ten seconds with every press. When I tried it i could skip forward and back pretty far and the video would start up instantly. Although I never really tested it to see how far forward back i could go to get it to buffer. I rarely saw any buffering. Out of around parts of forty titles I looked at, i only saw it buffer a couple of times, and that was at the very beginning.”

    After the reviews have come in, (and I don’t have one myself, FWIW), I think the important thing about Fire on day one is that it provides a better UX with Amazon Video than any other box has ever provided for any streaming service, by a reasonably wide margin. That’s a big deal.

    Now, if Amazon is smart, they’ll go beyond that in the next 6 to 12 months. I think opening up search, (including voice search), to the wide range of service the user chooses to add is key to going beyond that. But we’ll see how Amazon is as this plays out.

  45. And speaking of Beavis, I know I was excited for Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, but it’s still far better than I was expecting.

  46. I don’t know that I agree with that. The Fire is better when playing Amazon content. Trying to find content is not better – it’s in multiple places and displayed in multiple ways. Except the ones I want. Unless we’re saying voice is UX.

  47. “Trying to find content is not better – it’s in multiple places and displayed in multiple ways.”

    Are you talking about finding Amazon content? (I agree the challenge the box faces going forward is to decide to, and then implement, broadening find across multiple ‘channels’.)

    But without a box of my own, the impression I’ve been getting is that it’s a best of breed UX not only in playing content, as long as one is restricting oneself just to the Amazon corner video store, but also in finding content, as long as one is restricting oneself just to the Amazon corner video store…

  48. The FireTV is easily the best Amazon streaming app I’ve used. Although one thing I didn’t like is how easy it would be to accidentally purchase a title. I did it once by accident but fortunately it was a zero cost title. But I would have been pissed if it would have cost me money. I need to make sure in the future I’m more careful. I don’t know if there is an option to make it more difficult to purchase something so I won’t accidentally make a purchase. I guess I need to look closer at that.

  49. “Although one thing I didn’t like is how easy it would be to accidentally purchase a title.”

    Same problem with the Kindle e-reader. However, there is a link on the Kindle you can immediately click on to note that hit ‘purchase’ accidentally, and you never get charged.

    But as far as accidental purchases on the Fire go, this anecdote might reassure: when I first got my Kindle, I accidentally hit purchase on a title, and didn’t realize I could immediately take it back. I sent an email to Amazon the next morning, and they had refunded me by the end of the day, (and deleted the e-book the next time i turned on WiFi, well after they’d issued the refund). Given that they can see if you’ve read the book or watched the video, I’d expect that similar behavior would result in a no-hassle refund if you accidentally hit ‘purchase’ on a title on the Fire and stopped watching the video in a reasonable amount of time.

    Amazon customer service really is pretty amazing on all fronts, which is why I love doing business with them. (I’ve had a couple of Amazon videos encounter relatively minor PQ difficulty on my Roku, and while I was trying to decide whether it was worth my time to email them to request a refund, they had already detected the problem from their end, issued me a refund and bonus MP3 credit, and shot me a notifying email.)

  50. The inverse of Aaron’s observation is that it’s difficult to filter for just Instant Prime content. Or maybe I just haven’t found it yet.

  51. “The inverse of Aaron’s observation is that it’s difficult to filter for just Instant Prime content. Or maybe I just haven’t found it yet.”

    Well, if you mean via Fire search, you’re highly likely correct that it doesn’t exist, and probably will never exist. However, you can certainly browse just Prime, as with the Roku.

    (However, whatever box you have, you can most certainly filter search just Prime video via a web browser, and add your choices to your watchlist, which is how I’ve added somewhere around half of my 100+ Prime selections currently populating my watchlist.)

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