Today Amazon announced its own set-top streaming box, the Fire TV, to compete with the likes of Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast. It’s more like the two former devices and less like Chromecast because it’s not completely device-dependent and can be operated with its own remote using an on-screen menu. However, it does offer mirroring from your Kindle Fire tablet.
Though I haven’t yet used one, the Fire TV looks like it will also make a really nice internet radio. Out of the gate it has apps for Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. In particular, TuneIn should provide access to nearly every radio station on the internet. Amazon says it will also soon have the capability to stream all of your digital music purchases from the company.
Sound quality is one area where Amazon is trying to differentiate Fire TV. The company touts Dolby Digital Plus surround sound with up to 7.1 channels, delivered via HDMI into your soundbar or receiver, as well as an optical digital audio out. Surround sound is not so important for typical radio listening, but that optical out potentially gives the Fire TV some true high fidelity cred, letting you connect it to an outboard digital to analog converter to bump up audio quality. To be fair, Apple TV offers an optical out, too.
Another trick Amazon added is voice command, which could be useful to some folks. The Fire TV is also a game machine, which certainly sets it apart, as well.
While TuneIn does offer access to podcasts, I’d like to see some more podcast-specific app support. You should be able to stream podcasts from your Kindle Fire tablet, though at the moment that appears to be the only device you can stream from.
The battle for your living room entertainment heats up even more. I’m glad to see radio apps are there from launch. Given that all these set-top boxes are $100 or less, I don’t doubt that some early adopters will have more than one connected to their home entertainment systems. The choice of which one to use might be dictated by app availability and overall performance on that app.
Who will be the internet radio champ in the set-top universe? It should be a fun race to watch.
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