On Monday, Amazon expanded one of the key fronts in the ongoing war for control of the living room by introducing the Fire TV Stick. It's a follow-up to the company's Amazon Fire TV launched earlier this year, and a direct competitor to Google's Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick.
Like its competitors, the Fire TV Stick is an HDMI dongle that plugs into a video port and a Wi-Fi connection to provide on-demand access to services including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spotify, Pandora, Twitch, YouTube and Amazon's own Instant Video offerings.
"Fire TV Stick is the most powerful streaming media stick available – a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, dual-band and dual-antenna Wi-Fi, included remote control, voice search with our free mobile app, easy set-up, an open ecosystem, and exclusive features like ASAP for instant streaming," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement.
ASAP is "Advanced Streaming and Prediction," which I think it's safe to presume is a related technology to Amazon's "Silk" browser on its other devices, that attempts to predict what content you'll consume and pre-loads a portion of it to prevent too much irritating buffering. Certainly the 8 GB of on-board storage helps out with this.
Conspicuously absent from the lineup of compatible services for Fire TV is HBO, but that could change in the coming months given HBO's recent announcement that it will offer a standalone streaming service next year.
One of the key advantages of Amazon's platform is its easy access to Amazon's own content offerings, which are more difficult to access via the even less expensive Chromecast (it has to be done through a Chrome tab on a desktop or laptop after tweaking some settings, a process that is far from perfect and often not without lag or other issues).
Fire TV Stick has more in common with the Roku Streaming Stick than the Chromecast, in that it comes with an included remote control and can be navigated and searched (upgrading to the Fire TV voice remote costs an extra $30) in a more traditional on-screen manner rather than relying on connected mobile devices like Chromecast. At US$39, it also splits the difference between the $50 Roku Streaming Stick and $30 Chromecast.
The Fire TV stick is dirt cheap today and tomorrow for new and existing Amazon Prime members – Amazon is offering a limited time half-price deal on pre-orders, so you can reserve a Fire TV Stick now for just $19. The company says the sticks will start shipping on November 19.