Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TVAfter weeks of speculation, Amazon has finally shown its hand in the set-top box game with the Fire TV. It’s a $99 box with a Bluetooth remote control that connects to your HD TV and shows Amazon content plus media from partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Pandora.

Amazon Fire TV

Initially, this doesn’t sound terribly different from the Roku and Apple TV units, but when you get into the feature set, it’s pretty impressive. There’s voice search which helps you find the shows without the laborious letter selection that bedevils remote controls. ASAP is a predictive feature that pre-loads content so that shows start instantly without the buffering delay. WhisperSync synchronises watching and listening across multiple devices so you never lose a second, and X-Ray takes the movie experience further, showing film and character information on your second screen Kindle Fire HDX.

As you’d expect, the Fire TV is seamlessly integrated with Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, giving access to tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes. With Dolby Digital Plus, films and music will sound amazing and any media stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive from photos to personal videos can be played through the Fire TV.

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

Amazon are definitely taking the fight to the competition as the Fire TV is a mini powerhouse, with a quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM, which lets the unit double as a gaming unit with over 100 games available at launch. Already available are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush and Amazon has signed up EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV.  To complement the gaming, there’s an additional game controller that will set you back a penny shy of $40. The controller connects via Bluetooth too and will run for up to 55 hours on AA batteries.

Simplistically, it’s a desktop version of the Kindle Fire tablets and sure enough, Fire TV runs the latest version of Fire OS “Mojito,” which is based on Android. This means that apps should be easily ported over to the Fire TV (and Kindle Fires).

The Kindle Fire TV is available now in the US. No news on international availability yet.

Geniatech Brings Android TV to Market

Geniatech has introduced a very small settop box that is called Enjoy TV.  The small white box packs a lot of features into it, including a MicroSD card slot, infrared remote control, ethernet, HDMI, USB, and WiFi.  App Makers will be able to tailor the apps they build to this box and make them ready for the big screen TV.  Geniatech describes it in the following manor:

“It provides a new family television entertainment experience. It is an Android TV tuner box, an Android HD Media player, a Mini Android PC, an IPTV Set-top box, a home media Hub & NAS and a DLNA server. With it, Internet live streaming & Video-on-demand, live TV, music, games and more, all instantly on your TV.”

Not only is this a video solution, but you can use all Android apps through it, even gaming.  The box comes with a small, simple remote control as well.  The remote even has a gyro sensor in it so it doubles as a wireless mouse as well.  The MSRP is expected to be under $100, but retailers will be able to customize the box with additional features that could raise that price.  There is also an alternate remote, which is geared to the enthusiasts.  It’s already available is some parts of Europe and will be released is the U.S. sometime in 2012.  You can find it at Geniatech.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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On The Net, Less Can Offer More

For some time now I’ve been using an iOS/Android app called “Heytell” to communicate with a number of friends and relatives. Heytell’s appeal is that it offers reliable asynchronous voice messages that are quick and easy to send to people when you don’t want to invest the time in a phone conversation. Heytell’s success as an app is that it offers something that’s less than a phone call but does it very well indeed.

Text messaging is successful and popular because it offers the opportunity to send quick and easy messages directly to the cell phones of others if you don’t want to invest the time or effort into writing a full-fledged email. Text messaging’s success is that it offers something that’s less than an email but does it very well indeed.

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with various set-top boxes, including the Western Digital WDTV as well as built-in apps in a couple of different brands of Blu-Ray players, the software version of Boxee, an Apple TV, and even a Mac Mini connected to my HDTV. All of them had their strengths, however, it still felt as if something was somehow wrong or missing from each one of those experiences and user interfaces.

Over the weekend I bought a Roku 2 XS. The Roku is by far the best set-top box experience I’ve ever had. Roku has got it right. They’ve currently got well over 100 apps to chose from, with many more constantly being added. Roku has a tremendous amount of content provided by those third-party apps, and content drives success. Content is king and always will be.

It hit me what the appeal of a box such as Roku is with its third-party apps. These streaming apps, such as Crackle, Netflix, etc. are something less than a full-fledged cable or broadcast TV network. They can have lots of highly-specialized content to choose from, such as Netflix, or such a small amount of highly-specialized content that it’s only updated once a week. Big traditional cable and broadcast networks provide only one program at a time that the viewer has to make an appointment to watch. Roku video streaming apps provide specialized content that in many cases could never make it on a traditional broadcast network because the audience would be too small. That same specialized content begins to have tremendous appeal in a Roku app venue where it’s something less than a full-fledged network environment, yet delivered very well indeed.

On the Internet, less really can be more.

SEC College Sports Come to Boxee

Yesterday Boxee announced that SEC Digital Network has launched their college sports app for the Boxee platform.  For those who don’t, SEC is the Southeaster Conference.  They cover all areas of college sports for the member schools.    You can visit their website for more information.  The app features news, specials, highlight, full games, and a lot more.

The feature set, as announced by Boxee, will include:

SEC Today
News and highlights, these daily updates keep you up to date on any major developments from around the conference. SEC Today also offers team previews for all of SEC football.

Specials
Watch classic documentaries focused on SEC Sports, profiles of great SEC players who’ve gone pro, or interviews of current SEC coaches.

Full Games
Rewatch some of the greatest SEC games of the past 20 years. Plus watch many of the best football games from last season. All of the games are totally free to watch, so stop worrying about wearing out those VHS tapes of last season’s football games and stream some of the best games whenever you want.

My Library
Shop the SEC OnDemand streaming VOD store for a library of over 700+ full-length historic and current SEC games. This season’s games are available as soon as midnight the following Saturday. All videos you buy there are automatically accessible on Boxee through the SEC Digital Network app’s My Library section.

According to claims, the app wil include exclusive content that won’t be available anywhere else.  If you own the Boxee Box, or use their software on a PC or Mac, and are a college sports fan, then this will be the best $0 you ever spent.  To find out more about Boxee, you can visit Boxee.tv.