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AmazonFireTV-FireStandingDoes the world really need another streaming box? The answer is a resounding YES!

Having just purchased the Amazon Fire TV and having tried many other streaming devices — including the Roku, Wii, XBOX, Apple TV, Chromecast, TiVo, Slingbox, Belkin TV, and smart TVs — I can say that the Fire TV is a must have for any value-oriented TV watcher.

To understand why, it’s first important to remember what the Fire TV and other streaming devices are competing against.

The simplicity of watching TV is has helped to make it a habit in most homes — turn on the TV and video begins playing right away. No need to change inputs, no need to wait for the TV to load (usually) and generally no network latency issues. Occasionally, you have to suffer through a grid to find something to watch, or channel surf using your remote control, but it has been brain-dead simple for many years.

DVR usage has also become more prevalent, and when there is nothing to watch on TV, it’ll just take a few more taps on your remote to start watching your DVR. If there is nothing to watch there, you’ll spend a few more taps yet again to tap into Video on Demand offered by your cable provider. Therein lies the opportunity and challenge — while it’s easy to just turn on something to watch on live TV, it takes a few more brain cells to and some patience to find something to watch on DVR and VOD.

amazon fire tv screen shotEach second (or partial second) waiting for streams to load significantly reduces the consumer’s desire to stream content to their TVs, even if it’s free.

We’re creatures of habit. We’re at home at 8 p.m. wanting to watch a compelling TV show and the extra time it takes to change inputs, wait for the box to turn on, find the show, and then wait for the video stream to see it on TV is frankly too much work for most TV watchers.

This is one of the ways that Amazon’s foray into the streaming box market has nailed it for the consumer. Amazon has made streaming significantly easier with an ultrafast box, plus voice search on your remote control.

In my tests, the voice search worked really well — even with ambient noise in the background. For On Demand viewing, this is much faster than any current set-up that I have, including my cable set top box, smart TVs and other streaming devices, including Chromecast. Amazon preloads content so that it immediately begins streaming instead of having to wait several seconds to start playing the content. The responsiveness of the box, the voice search, and the no-wait streaming are the best you’ll find out there.

IMG_8053Using the Fire TV immediately after opening the box is impressive. I was up and running in less than 5 minutes. No logins required. They already shipped with my Amazon Prime and no setup was required other than wifi. (Yes, I was a little surprised there wasn’t an HDMI cable.) I know cold starts on many of the other boxes were either overwhelmingly long or way too technical for the mass market. Amazon set the bar very high with their cold start.

For Amazon Instant Prime subscribers, this was far and away the best way to stream Amazon content to the TV. Unfortunately, the other streaming boxes that stream Amazon Prime require just a few more steps than I’d like to see. I have to find the app, launch it, then wait for the app to load and then select my content and then wait again to start playing.

Fire TV is “instant on” to the Amazon Prime Instant Video catalog and with a short voice search, you’re watching content immediately.

There are quite a few things that are lacking, but given Amazon’s reputation and business model, I expect that the box will be future-proof for a while with additional software updates. One of the biggest areas where I believe Amazon will innovate is Universal Search. The current search mechanism only searches across Amazon’s library. So, if you search for “Orange is the New Black” you’ll get a bunch of non-sensical titles.

IMG_8038I believe that Amazon will extend this to be a truly universal video search, similar to how their e-commerce website treats third-party sellers. If you want to purchase an item on the internet, Amazon’s goal is to get you to always start with Amazon first. If you choose to purchase from a third party, that’s fine as long as you started with them first. This also happens with product reviews: Users may search Amazon first and then choose to buy elsewhere.

By ensuring universal search across all video sources, Amazon will create more utility for users and build the trust necessary to always start with Amazon first. I expect that they will do this soon.

The second area for improvement is in apps. Most people don’t know what they want to watch when they sit down to watch TV — the challenge then is that consumers will have to navigate Amazon’s menu using up/down/left/right on the remote to find something to watch or find another video app to open and attempt to find something then.

Amazon has launched a companion application on the Kindle Fire, but there is no support for iOS, Android, or Windows yet. The smartphone or tablet is one of the best ways to find content because you can use gestures and navigate quickly while the TV may be tuned to another program. I expect that Amazon will expose their catalog and all the 3rd party catalogs in a companion experience on multiple platforms to make it easier for people to find, discover, and launch programs on the Fire TV.

Amazon will turn smartphones and tablets into a software based remote that will allow for voice search, driving users to consume content on the Fire TV. It wouldn’t surprise me if later users could use the soft remote to launch pay TV programming as well. This would deliver a “wow “experience for consumers.

Andy Liu
Andy Liu

The video ecosystem is very confusing for consumers — programming windows, TV Everywhere, On Demand, Streaming, DIAL, Smart TVs, etc. Fire TV is reducing a lot of complexity by making one catalog very user friendly and fast. It’s worth buying just for that reason.

However, the future is even brighter for Fire TV as the hardware is designed for next-generation TV experiences (and perhaps to a greater extent, gaming experiences) that will change the way we interact with and consume TV in the future, for the better.

Andy Liu is a Seattle angel investor, entrepreneur and the CEO of BuddyTV.  Read his blog, Inspired Startup, here and follow him on Twitter @aceliu

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