Amazon Fire TV is in direct competition with existing set-top boxes like Apple TV and Roku. The products are similar in many ways. All three allow you to access free and subscription streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Watch ESPN, YouTube, Crackle and Showtime Anytime on your TV. The only truly unique features offered by Amazon Fire TV are voice search and a few gaming titles. Reviewers also note that the Amazon device is faster and smoother than other set-top boxes thanks to its beefed-up processor and memory [source: O'Brien].
As we mentioned earlier, Amazon Fire TV makes perfect sense for existing Amazon Prime subscribers who already watch a lot of streaming content from Amazon's online entertainment library. That's because Amazon's voice search only shows results from Amazon.com. If you prefer to watch streaming video from a wider variety of sources — Netflix and Hulu Plus, for example — then you have to load each of those apps individually and search within them for movies or shows. That's a potential con for many users.
Another issue has to do with the very concept of the set-top box itself. Set-top boxes are not the only way to watch streaming video on TV. Google's Chromecast, for example, is an inexpensive thumb-sized device that plugs directly into the HDMI port of your TV. With it, you can stream content wirelessly from any laptop, tablet or smartphone straight to the TV. The Roku Streaming Stick is similar, but includes a TV remote and more channels.
And then there are so-called "smart TVs," Internet-enabled TVs that can stream online content without the help of any outside box or device. Twelve percent of American households already own a smart TV, but only 70 percent of those TVs are actually connected to the Internet [source: Wood].
Why then, do we need streaming set-top boxes at all? Honestly, many of us don't. If you already watch most of your TV and movies online — 34 percent of millennials watch no broadcast TV at all — and you have an HDTV sitting around idle, then a streaming set-top box is a relatively inexpensive way to supersize your viewing experience [source: Beaujon]. Otherwise, you can stick with your current entertainment "system": Use your PS3 to stream Netflix, your DVR to record your favorite TV shows and your smartphone to watch cat videos on YouTube.
For lots more information on the future of TV, check out the related HowStuffWorks articles below.
Author's Note: How Amazon Fire TV Works
I'm an Amazon Prime subscriber and I'm conflicted about it. On one hand, I love the convenience of getting just about anything in the world shipped for free to my front door. On the other hand, I worry that I'm contributing to a world where one-click online convenience is killing off smaller competition like local retailers. I also worry about the fossil fuels burned to ship my daughter's pink softball bag from a monstrous warehouse in Kentucky to my doorstep in less than two days. And then there are the workers in that Kentucky warehouse running around packing toilet paper and workout DVDs into boxes on 12-hour shifts so we can have the convenience of instant delivery.
One reviewer described Amazon Prime TV as a "Trojan horse" in your living room pretending to offer streaming entertainment, but really trying to sell you on everything that Amazon offers. As a conflicted Amazon Prime subscriber, am I willing to invite this Trojan horse through the front door? One thing's for sure: if I do, it will be here by Wednesday. Free shipping.
- Amazon. "Amazon Fire TV" (April 21, 2014) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CX5P8FC/ref=amb_link_411425142_2?ie=UTF8&nav_sdd=aps&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-1&pf_rd_r=1F8MB0KVWAXVHX95KBQX&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1777175882&pf_rd_i=507846
- Associated Press. "No TV? 5 Million U.S. households bid boob tube goodbye." USA Today. April 8, 2013. (April 21, 2014). http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/04/07/zero-tv-homes/2061127/
- Beaujon, Andrew. "Third of millennial watch mostly online video or no broadcast TV." The Poynter Institute. Oct. 10, 2013 (April 21, 2014) http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/225528/third-of-millennials-watch-no-broadcast-tv/
- GFK. "51% of Total US Population Watches Streaming Video Weekly — New GFK Study." Sept. 10, 2013 (April 21, 2014) http://www.gfk.com/us/news-and-events/press-room/press-releases/Pages/Streaming-Video-Weekly-Study.aspx
- National Cable and Telecommunications Association. "Cable's Story" (April 21, 2014) https://www.ncta.com/who-we-are/our-story
- O'Brien, Terrence. "Amazon Fire TV review: the set-top that tries to do everything." Engadget. April 9, 2014 (April 21, 2014) http://www.engadget.com/2014/04/09/amazon-fire-tv-review/
- Waldman, Steven. "The Information Needs of Communities." FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. July 2011 (April 21, 2014) http://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc-report/The_Information_Needs_of_Communities.pdf
- Wood, Molly. "Expressway to Amazon in a Box." The New York Times. April 6, 2014 (April 21, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/technology/personaltech/the-amazon-fire-tv-streaming-media-set-top-box.html?_r=0
- Wood, Molly. "Where the Amazon Fire TV Fits Into the Living Room." The New York Times. April 2, 2014 (April 21, 2014) http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/where-the-amazon-fire-tv-fits-into-the-living-room/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0