Amazon.com, Inc., the world's largest e-commerce company, has taken the wraps off "Fire TV," an Internet video-streaming set-top box that plugs into an HDTV.
The $99 Fire TV device almost fits in the palm of one hand and streams content from Netflix Inc, Hulu and other video services. It's Amazon's latest move in a broad strategy to become an entertainment TV powerhouse. The strategy includes streaming content through the Amazon Instant Video service and broadcasting original programming via Amazon Studios, its in-house production arm.
Fire TV also offers a platform for Amazon's own fast-growing streaming video service, original television programs and games. Amazon will also sell a separate controller for gaming that costs $39.99. The $99 retail price of Fire TV is the same as Apple TV. Roku 3 sells for $100.
Fire TV competes directly against Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast, which dominate a market growing at 24% a year.
Amazon's unveiling of Fire TV also confirms the lasting importance of television. Despite consumers shifting their viewing habits to smartphones and tablets, the TV continues to be the device of choice for American households.
The average American spent a massive 185 hours in front of the TVs in December 2013 compared with 34 hours and 21 minutes on mobile devices, which includes activities such as checking social media and playing games, according to Nielsen. Then there's the TV ad market estimated at $70 billion.
Fire TV comes with a small, Bluetooth-based remote control, similar to those used with Roku and Apple TV. Unlike its rivals, the Amazon remote comes with a microphone that users can speak into to search for content.
"Fire TV has voice search that actually works," Amazon said on its website. "The old way of searching with a TV remote — scrolling and clicking one letter at a time on an alphabet grid — is painful. With Fire TV you simply speak the title, actor or genre into the remote and you're done."
Amazon said it doesn't intend Fire TV to compete against gaming consoles. By next month, Fire TV users will be able to play thousands of video games.