This Friday Debate, we discuss the Fire TV. Amazon introduced their long rumored set-top-box this week, and it looks pretty impressive. The nominally Android-powered Fire TV comes with a Snapdragon 600, 2GB of RAM, and a price tag that matches that of established players like Apple TV and Roku. At $99, it’s three times more expensive than Google, but then again, it does more things. It’s a gaming console too, a sort of Ouya meets Roku with a dash of Amazon.
The Chromecast is doing well in sales, but Google is rumored to up the ante with a full-fledged set-top-box with gaming capabilities coming this summer. Has Amazon gained the upper hand by releasing its Fire TV first? Will Jeff Bezos’ company threaten Google’s plans? Is the Chromecast still a good deal now that the Fire TV is out? What can Google do to one up its competitors?
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To answer the question outright, yes this device poses a major threat to Google and to Apple. Amazon has a long history of doing things right and they are responsible for pretty much most of the AOSP (non Google Android) market share. The set top box is a little bit of a niche product but it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a more mainstream kind of thing and I believe the Fire TV is a step in that direction.
In terms of which one is a better deal, that really depends on your usage. With a Chromecast, your computer is still your central hub of media and you simply use the Chromecast to move your media from your PC to your TV. With the Fire TV, it becomes your content manager. So there is no doubt in my mind that people who fall into the category of using a computer as a content management platform will call the Chromecast the better bargain while people who want their content managed by an independent device will call the Fire TV the better choice.
In my mind’s eye the real battle isn’t between Fire TV and the Chromecast, but rather between Fire TV, Apple TV, and the Roku. Chromecast is meant to augment a home theater set up, not really become the focal point of it. Full featured set top boxes are meant to run home theater set ups and so I believe it to be a different market. The few people I’ve spoken to agree that if you’re looking at just video streaming, then there is no real difference between the Fire TV and the Roku as they both stream pretty much the same stuff. They also cost about the same. Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that Apple TV is third place in this race but, admittedly, the people I talk to are a tad biased when it comes to Apple products sometimes.
Where the Fire TV has a real chance to shine is as a gaming platform. Streaming media can be a done a thousand (hyperbole) different ways so when you look at that market there is an undeniable parity. You can only stream videos so well, you know? Once you hit the plateau, you’re really just catching up to the competition and not really overtaking it.
As a gaming platform, Fire TV suddenly has a huge advantage over the competition. Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast don’t really play video games and to get the same set up without a Fire TV you’d pretty much have to buy an Ouya and a Roku. Given Amazon’s recent moves into the video game business with their recent acquisition of Double Helix (developers of Killer Instinct), it appears as though they may use Fire TV as both a full-featured video streaming set top box and a full-featured video game console. If that’s the case, the Fire TV has the potential to be the undisputed champion of this form factor.
As always, time will tell but Amazon has been making a lot of moves this year and I would be very surprised if the launch of Fire TV was the only thing they did in this category this year.
Up until now, I’ve largely avoided the growing trend of using set-top streaming boxes or dongles like the Chromecast.
The reason for this is two-fold: first, (I live in the past apparently) I still have a home theater PC is my living room. Second, the rest of the rooms have some form of game console hooked up for things like Netflix and Hulu, such as the PS3 in my room or the Wii in our kids’ room.
That said, I’ve actually been quite impressed by some of the (reasonably) newer streaming solutions coming to the market such as the Chromecast and now the Fire TV.
As someone who still uses his PC as the center of his entertainment experience, I’m inclined to agree with Hindy that the Chromecast is really the better complimentary type of device. Still, the Fire TV’s voice control, sleek UI, speedy loading and the ability to game are all things that have caught my eye.
Ultimately, yes, I do believe that the Fire TV could pose a threat to the Chromecast and existing devices like the Apple TV and Roku — for now. If gaming and some of Fire TV’s other aspects prove popular, you can bet that next-gen steamers from Apple, Roku and Google will add these features while bringing their own unique ideas to the mix.
Bottom-line, the Fire TV will do very well among fans of Amazon’s services and could become a solid option for those looking for a casual gaming device as well. As to which is a better of deal, it basically comes down to what you’re looking for.
At $35, the Chromecast is still the best value, and the arrival of the Chromecast SDK has opened the door to many more apps including an impressive Tasker plugin called AutoCast.
Fire TV seems like such an obvious thing for Amazon to create that you almost wonder what took them so long. It’s such an Amazon-like device, with its cheap price tag and focus on a simple, but smooth experience. And of course, there’s all the books and movies to consume, each adding another couple of cents to Amazon’s bottom line for each buy.
Is the Fire TV a threat to the Chromecast? Hardly, I think. While their functionality overlaps to some extent, the Chromecast doesn’t really want to be a set-top box. I see it more like an experiment by Google, a thumb in the water before taking the plunge with a full, powerful Nexus TV box. I am pretty sure such a device is coming, probably at Google I/O this summer.
When this Nexus TV, or whatever it’s called, lands, the most interesting thing about it will be its gaming capabilities. Amazon is on the right path with Fire TV – they make it easy to jump into a casual game and have a little fun; specs are good enough for most games; and the controller is cheap and fully featured. I am hoping Google can top that somehow.
What I’d really like to see Google do is jump into game streaming. They have the huge data centers to make it feasible. They have the networking and server expertize to make it work smoothly. They have the brains to avoid the pitfalls that befell OnLive and others. Sure, game streaming wouldn’t contribute much to its data-collection agenda, but it could be the killer feature that would set Google’s set-top/console apart from Apple TV, Fire TV, and even full-fledged consoles. Amazon is one player that I see capable of going head to head with Google in this area. If Google doesn’t tackle game-streaming, Amazon will.
I think the Chromecast will live on as a standalone product, but Google would be wise to fold its functionality into the set-top-box when that eventually lands. They’d get so many apps instantly supporting it, which would be another advantage against competitors that have a head start in the race.