Well, look at that! A $99 Amazon set-top box for the living room. I'd almost be surprised—if we hadn't been hearing rumors about the thing since almost a year ago, that is.
Unexpected or not, the Amazon Fire TV looks like a pretty compelling competitor to the Apple TV and Roku. Like those devices, it can stream content from a number of major online video services (including Amazon's own Prime Instant Video); but unlike the competition, the Fire TV integrates voice recognition for content searches, and it doubles as a game console with the help of a $39.99 controller.
The voice search sounds particularly helpful. "[S]peak the title, actor, or genre" into the Bluetooth remote, Amazon says, "and you're done." The remote still has navigation buttons, so folks can presumably browse content the old-fashioned way, too. It's also possible to "fling" content from a Kindle Fire HDX to the device over Wi-Fi.
On the gaming front, Fire TV titles include Minecraft Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, Asphalt 8, and Sev Zero, a "brand-new exclusive from Amazon Game Studios." Paid games will set you back $1.85 on average, Amazon says, but Sev Zero comes free with the Amazon Fire controller.
Under the hood, the Fire TV features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8064 processor with quad 1.7GHz ARMv7 cores, Adreno 320 integrated graphics, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage. There are HDMI, optical audio, Ethernet, and USB ports on the back, and wireless connectivity comprises 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Not bad for 99 bucks.
I bought an Apple TV when the latest model came out about 14 months ago, but I've been disappointed by the stagnation of its software and content catalog. On paper, the Fire TV seems like a stronger product at this point—especially with the voice search, which sounds infinitely easier than navigating an on-screen keyboard with the remote. Apple better have a major Apple TV refresh on the way. (Thanks to TR regular ssidbroadcast for the tip.)