NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon's new Fire TV streaming device shows a lot of potential in bringing together the best features from competing devices and adding voice search on top of that.
But for now, it's largely promise: Many of the best features work with only a handful of video services, which makes Fire TV primarily a showcase for Amazon's video offerings.
Fire TV, unveiled by Amazon.com Inc. on Wednesday, marks the online retailer's latest push into streaming video.
Amazon has aggressively expanded its video library in recent months, and is now offering its own device to view that content. At $99, Fire TV costs about the same as other full-service streaming devices, namely Roku 3 and Apple TV.
With Fire TV, you can watch video from Netflix, Hulu Plus and more if you have subscriptions to those services. If you get Showtime and ESPN through a supported cable or satellite TV provider, you can access on-demand video from those channels.
Otherwise, you can use free, ad-supported services such as Crackle, Vevo and YouTube. You can also buy video individually through Amazon Instant Video or get a selection for free through Amazon's $99-a-year Prime program.
You can listen to music, too, through Pandora, iHeartRadio and other services or play one of more than 100 games, some of which require a $40 game controller.
Fire TV offers more than 175 video, music and game apps, but that pales compared with the more than 1,000 available through Roku. Still, it beats the few dozen offered by Apple TV.
Notable omissions in Fire TV's app store include HBO Go, PBS and Apple's iTunes. Major League Baseball, ABC and the Disney Channel are coming soon. Apple TV already has all that, but it doesn't offer Amazon Instant Video directly on the device.
Fire TV, like Apple TV, allows in-app purchases, so you can sign up for Hulu Plus right from the TV and have the monthly subscription fee billed through your Amazon account. But for now, this works only with a handful of services. Netflix isn't one of them. Apple requires all apps to support that so you don't have to pull out your credit card each time.
Fire TV also lacks the interface consistency that Apple insists on. That means on-screen keyboards, layouts and search tools vary from app to app. With Apple TV, all apps share a common look and feel so you don't waste time figuring out what's where.
Amazon's device trumps Roku in keeping audio and video in sync most of the time. I've found that to be a problem with most streaming devices, with Apple TV being the notable exception.
What sets Fire TV furthest apart from competing devices is its voice search. Just speak the title, actor, director or genre into your remote, and Fire TV shows matching content on the TV. There were a few laughable errors. The device searched for "How I Met Your Brother" and "Holly Met Your Mother" when I asked to see the popular sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." But mostly, voice recognition worked well.
Unfortunately, voice search works only with a handful of apps. I was able to get content from Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus and Vevo, but it missed Netflix and others. Searching "House of Cards" got me season 1 episodes available for purchase through Amazon, even though Netflix had those for free, plus season 2.
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