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The Fire TV is a Weak Gaming Console, Marginal Streaming Media Box, but None of that Matters

Amazon AmazonFireTV-FireStandinglaunched 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 They may be a generation out of date but they still have large catalogs of games, including ones you can find used, and the consoles double as media streaming devices.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!)

A1gOfv1VWpL[1]The Amazon Fire TV, on the other hand, is a rather weak console which is launching with only around 100 games.

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 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.

Why third?

At this point we know that Apple has sold more than 20 million Apple TVs, while Roku has sold 8 million units. But we don’t know how many Chromecast 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?

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George April 2, 2014 um 5:05 pm

Does it matter that it’s a weak box & will I get one? Bezos commands & I obey as a loyal fan boy. Except Bezos is trumped by my wife for the moment. But eventually I’ll probably get one. I don’t care about the gaming aspect. What I do care about is something integrated into my Amazon account.

Nate Hoffelder April 2, 2014 um 9:00 pm

" What I do care about is something integrated into my Amazon account."

If it were a better gaming platform this would tempt me as well.

fjtorres April 2, 2014 um 5:14 pm

The Specs for the FireTV look impressive on paper when compared to tablets–it’s essentially a tablet without a screen–but those specs are mostly irrelevant. For streaming, the bottleneck isn’t the CPU, GPU, or WiFi, but rather the broadband "pipe" into the house.
For example, the FireTV boasts 600Mbps dual band MiMo wireless…
But most households with broadband rarely get more than 20Mpbs throughput. And most of the online services can deliver 1080p video on less than 10Mbps.

On the flipside, the same specs they brag about are plenty lean compared to even last generation gaming consoles.

The FireTV is something of an unbalanced device: overpowered for streaming, underpowered for gaming, and under-supported for both functions compared to the competition. And overpriced for what users can actually get out of it.

Mind you, it compares very nicely to the AppleTV but since the AppleTV is far from being the category leader, all Amazon is doing is beating an also-ran.

Still, AppleTV sells because of brand recognition–maybe the Amazon brand will sell the box.
Stranger things have happened.

jjj April 2, 2014 um 5:22 pm

The gaming shortcomings are less about the software and more about the hardware.
Android gaming and ARM gaming in general on the big screen is not all that great. Someone needs to push dedicated hardware with a lot more GPU power before gaming can get serious on ARM.
It is funny though how everybody is comparing it with dumb streamers (or Chromecast that is not a streamer, just turns the TV into an internet connected TV- not a smart TV) when it’s more Google TV like , a very different product category.

Nate Hoffelder April 2, 2014 um 5:34 pm

Good point.

This means that the Fire TV is never going to be much of a gaming console – not until the second gen, anyway.

fjtorres April 2, 2014 um 5:28 pm

BTW, XBOX 360 has racked up 40M sales in the US alone, 80M worldwide and is selling at an annual rate of over 10M.
That makes it the top HD streaming box on the market, slightly ahead of the PS3.
If you don’t insist on HD video streaming, Wii slides into second place.
Add in SmartTVs, BD players, techie toys like popcorn hour, and media center PCs and the living room video market is already populated by over 300M gadgets.

This isn’t a virgin market like the first Kindle encountered.

Thomas April 2, 2014 um 7:38 pm

I’m not interested at all. I’m not a gamer these days, and my Blu-Ray player can stream all of these services too.

Al the Great and Powerful April 3, 2014 um 1:58 am

I have a Chromecast, and I bought the Roku stick to replace it (easier to use, handy remote, and it plays youtube out of the box, so I can watch my wife’s dive videos on the big screen). I see no use for the Amazon Fire TV box.

Dave Z April 3, 2014 um 8:47 am

Roku doesn’t do native DLNA. And I’d say Plex is a better solution, available to both. Amazon’s screen mirroring capabilities are unique. Also its app selection today at launch is a small fraction of what it will be – there will be more apps and more complex apps than Roku given the Android framework it’s based on. There’s room for competition in this space as there are many more TVs without Roku and Apple TV. I’m feeling hopeful.

Dave Z April 3, 2014 um 8:50 am

Weird, Roku may have updated their USB Media app a few months back to support DLNA. Wonder why they didn’t ping me? And I never open that app as I don’t attach USB things to my Roku – would have never known.

Common Sense April 3, 2014 um 11:43 am

Why waste $99 when we have a perfectly good Roku 3? We’ve had no complaints and see no advantage in Amazon’s Fire TV.

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