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Amazon unveils Android-based Fire TV STB and SDK

Apr 2, 2014  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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[Updated 10:30PM] — Amazon unveiled Amazon Fire TV, a $99 multimedia and gaming oriented TV companion box running Android 4.2 on a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC.

Although Amazon’s media-streaming Android TV device has been expected for quite some time, rumor had it that it would be an HDMI stick-style gizmo like Google’s Chromecast or Roku’s recently updated Streaming Stick. For this initial media-streaming player, however, Amazon opted for the tried-and-true companion box format, following in the footsteps of the iconic Roku Player and Apple’s hockey-puck-like Apple TV.



Amazon Fire TV is a TV companion box, not an HDMI stick
(click images to enlarge)

Avoiding the cramped quarters of an HDMI stick afforded room for the Fire TV to contain a relatively beefy quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8064 system-on-chip (now part of Qualcomm’s 600 Series), and also provided space for convenient access to the device’s HDMI, Ethernet, USB, and optical audio connections.

The locations of connectors and controls on the Fire TV and its wireless remote control are identified in the figure at the left, below. To its right is the optional $40 Fire Game Controller, which provides dual analog sticks and various media controls.



Fire TV details (left) and optional game controller
(click images to enlarge)

Performance-related Fire TV features listed by Amazon include:
  • Voice search — simply say the name of what you want to watch and start enjoying in seconds.
  • Over 200,000 TV episodes and movies, millions of songs, and over a hundred games
  • Easy to set up and use — pre-registered to your Amazon account so you can enjoy favorite titles and personalized recommendations
  • Instant streaming — “ASAP” feature predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you hit play
  • Parental controls — Amazon FreeTime lets you easily limit screen time and create personalized profiles for kids (coming soon)
  • Great for gaming — play blockbuster titles like Minecraft-Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, and Monsters University, plus free games and Amazon exclusives. Paid games start from 99 cents.



Amazon Fire TV home screen and voice search
(click images to enlarge)

A significant advantage of Fire TV over its three main competitors — Roku 3, Apple TV, and Chromecast — is a “voice search that actually works,” states CEO Jeff Bezos in the product’s launch announcement. Another bragging point is the Fire TV’s support for Android-based games, played with the optional dedicated Amazon Fire game controller.

We’ve reproduced Amazon’s Fire TV competitive comparison table below.



Fire TV vs. Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast
(click images to enlarge; source: Amazon)

Unsurprisingly, the table conveniently ignores Roku’s vast array of available TV-formatted channels, as well as Apple TV’s impressive AirPlay and screen-mirroring functions (for those with iOS devices at the sending end.) In fairness, however, Amazon does claim the Fire TV can mirror Kindle Fire HDX tablet displays, stating, “What you see on your Kindle Fire HDX display is exactly what you’ll see on your big screen,” and adding, “Click the ‘fling’ icon on your Second Screen-enabled tablet to send video and audio to your big screen, leaving you free to use your tablet for other tasks.” Both remote content rendering capabilities are available to one degree or another from tablets or smartphones running the latest versions of Android to DLNA- and/or WiFi Direct- and Miracast-enabled devices, but Amazon’s description gives the impression that the Fire TV’s mirroring and flinging features are only available when using one of the company’s Kindle Fire HDX tablets as the content source.

On the hardware side, the device offers 720p or 1080p 60fps video output, optical audio, and both Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, and comes with a wired remote. Detailed specifications are listed farther below.

 
Wanted: Fire TV application developers

Amazon is encouraging Android developers to create content and game apps for the Fire TV. As part of the the launch of Fire TV, Amazon also launched a Fire TV application development portal where developers can begin creating “immersive entertainment and gaming apps” for the device.

“Amazon Fire TV makes it easy for your customers to take their apps and games into the living room,” states the developer pitch. “With powerful performance and features such as second screen and multi-controller support, Amazon Fire TV gives you a familiar Android–based platform to extend your apps and games to the big screen.”

The Fire TV app development portal provides information on:

  • Getting started developing apps and games
  • Supporting controllers
  • Submitting apps to the Amazon Appstore
  • Fire TV specifications and guidelines
  • Fire TV SDK FAQ

A post on Amazon’s developer blog briefly discusses the process and tools associated with Fire TV app development.

 
Fire TV specifications

Specifications listed by Amazon for the Fire TV include the following:

  • Processor — Qualcomm Snapdragon 8064:
    • CPU — 4x ARMv7-based Qualcomm Krait 300 cores @ 1.7 GHz
    • GPU — Qualcomm Adreno 320 @ 400MHz
  • Memory — 2GB LPDDR2 RAM (533MHz)
  • Internal storage — 8GB flash
  • Networking:
    • Dual-band 802.11b/g/n WiFi
    • 10/100 Ethernet
    • Bluetooth 4.0 with support for HID, HFP 1.6, and SPP
  • USB 2.0 Type A port
  • Video:
    • Resolutions — 1080p and 720p at up to 60fps
    • Type A HDMI 1.4b outptu w/HDCP
  • Audio:
    • Supports Dolby Digital Plus, 5.1 surround sound, 2ch Stereo; HDMI audio pass-through up to 7.1
    • Optical audio (TOSLINK)
  • Streaming protocols supported
    • HTTP/HTTPS Progressive Streaming
    • HTTP/HTTPS Live Streaming
    • Microsoft Smooth streaming
  • Content formats supported:
    • Video — H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1
    • Audio — AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3
    • Photo — JPG, PNG
  • Dimensions — 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches (115 x 115 x 18 mm)
  • Power — 5.5mm DC jack (DC adapter supplied); consumption not specified
  • Operating system — Amazon FireOS (based on Android 4.2)
  • Remote control specs:
    • Audio input — dual digital mics with integrated noise suppression
    • Buttons — Voice, 5-way Directional, Back, Home, Menu, Rewind, Play/Pause, Fast Forward
    • Dimensions — 1.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches (38 x 140 x 16 mm)
  • Weight — 0.15 lbs (68 gm)
  • Power — 2x AAA batteries (included)

 
Further information

Additional details and purchase information are available at Amazon’s Fire TV page, from which the product can now be ordered for $99. “Eligible” buyers can opt for free 30-day trials of Netflix and Amazon Prime when they purchase the device. The optional Amazon Fire Game Controller ships starting April 7, but can be ordered now for $40 here. The Fire TV Android app development portal, with links to the Fire TV SDK, is located here.
 

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