Amazon launched their living room TV gadget today, and just like I predicted last Summer the Fire TV combines aspects of both a Roku-like streaming media box and a gaming console.
Unfortunately, the Fire TV doesn't really do either task all that well.
As a $99 media streamer it falls short of the comparably priced Roku box with far fewer sources, fewer streaming options, and less support for useful technical standards like DNLA, which lets you stream media from your other devices to the Roku box.
True, the Fire TV does have a faster CPU, more RAM, a better remote, and more games (Roku offers 77 games), but it won't look quite so impressive once the replacement for the year-old Roku 3 is released (donuts to dollars it is on the way).
And as a gaming console, once you add the $40 controller it doesn't look like a very good value. You can get a Xbox 360 for only $180, and you can get a new PS3 for only $200. They may be a generation out of date but they still have large catalogs of games, including ones you can find used, and the consoles double as media streaming devices.
What's more, as a reader just reminded me the PS3 and Xbox 360 have CPUs that are significantly more powerful than the year-old smartphone chip in the Fire TV. (Thanks, jjj!)
Amazon's flagship game comes free with the controller, and it is no Halo. Sev Zero looks to be a fun cross between tower defense and first person shooter, but at $6.99 it's clearly not in the same league as the blockbuster titles found on the Xbox or PlayStation.
In short, Amazon has launched a device which is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
But none of that matters, because Amazon is still going to sell truckloads. Amazon might not always have the best gadgetry but one thing they know is marketing.
Amazon can slap the Fire TV on the Amazon.com homepage and they'll have great sales; I would not be surprised to read an analyst report 6 months from now which claimed that Amazon was on its way to displacing Chromecast as the third best selling media streamer.
At this point we know that Apple has sold more than 20 million Apple TVs, while Roku has sold 8 million units. But we have been shipped by Google, and that leaves the question unanswered as to which is selling better.
And even though the Fire TV might not be the best, I would not make any guarantee that this won't change in 6 months. Another thing Amazon knows is how to iterate and release updates that improve their products. The current lack of games can be solved by getting more developers interested, and the current shortcomings in the streaming dept can be addressed in a software update.
Looking back at Amazon's past product launches, it is safe to say that the Fire TV platform will be significantly more impressive a year down the road.
Will you be getting one?