Amazon Whips Out TV Stick Against Google’s Chromecast and Roku

Amazon.com, after debuting its first Internet set-top this spring, is now going after Google’s low-cost Chromecast with its own $39 stick-based streaming adapter for HDTVs.

The Fire TV Stick, which plugs into the HDMI port on a TV set, provides wireless streaming access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, YouTube and other video services as well as music, photos, apps and games. The $39 dongle is available for pre-order starting Monday and will ship Nov. 19.

Amazon’s TV stick also will compete with the $49 Roku Streaming Stick, which like the Fire TV Stick includes a separate remote.

Amazon doesn’t release unit shipment figures, but claims the Fire TV set-top has become a top seller in its store (although Google Chromecast, listed at $35, and the Roku 3 box currently rank higher on its electronics best-sellers list). Neither Roku nor Google releases specific sales figures, either.

The e-commerce giant’s device strategy is, like Apple’s, aimed not only at selling products but also providing a platform for Amazon to distribute and sell digital content. Amazon started with the Kindle tablets, which have fared well for Amazon. But the company’s recent Fire Phone launch flopped with consumers, with Amazon taking a $170 million write-down in the third quarter related to the smartphone.

Amazon touted the Fire TV Stick as the most powerful streaming stick on the market, claiming it has 50% more processing power than Chromecast and six times that of the Roku Streaming Stick. The Fire TV Stick features a dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of memory and 8 GB of storage, plus dual-band and dual-antenna Wi-Fi. Unlike the Google Chromecast, which relies on mobile devices to function as a remote, the Fire TV Stick includes a remote control. For voice-enabled search and other advanced features, Fire TV Stick users must download an app.

“The team has packed an unbelievable amount of power and selection into an incredible price point,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, said in announcing Fire TV Stick.

The Internet-streaming device market — which started out basically as a way to watch Netflix on TV — has become more crowded as over-the-top video options expand. Growth in the category is expected to soar: In the U.S., the installed base of streaming-media players will hit 24 million, up from 16 million in 2013, expected to rise to 44 million by 2017, according to research firm IHS.

Among other developments, Google this month launched the $99 Nexus Player, based on its Android TV platform, for watching movies and TV shows from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Google Play and other services, streaming YouTube videos and music, and playing videogames. And Roku is planning to file confidentially for an IPO to raise up to $150 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous sources.

Like the Fire TV set-top, the Fire TV Stick provides access to multiple services. Those include: Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, NBA Game Time, Twitch, Showtime Anytime, Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, Vevo, Plex, A&E, PBS, PBS Kids, Watch Disney Channel and YouTube. With the stick, users can also rent or purchase more than 200,000 movies and TV episodes from Amazon Instant Video.

Game apps available on Fire TV Stick include Monsters University, Ski Safari and Flappy Birds Family. The device also lets users display personal photos and videos on the TV via the Amazon Cloud Drive.

Eligible Fire TV Stick customers will receive a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime, the free two-day shipping program that includes unlimited access to Prime Instant Video, Prime Music and other benefits. In a special launch promo, Amazon is selling the Fire TV Stick for $19 for two days.

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