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Amazon Unveils FireTV

Updated from 1:22 p.m. to include additional analysis in the second and ninth paragraphs, as well as retail availability.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Following weeks of speculation, Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) has announced Amazon Fire TV, its new streaming device, that will compete against the likes of Apple (AAPL - Get Report), Google (GOOG) and Roku in an increasingly crowded market.

The new device, which looks similar to Apple's set-top box but is more squared off and "thinner than a dime," according to Amazon vice president Peter Larsen, was announced at a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, to a group of roughly 150 media and industry followers. Amazon is selling the device for $99 and plans to begin shipping Fire TV today. Amazon noted it's just 0.7" thin, and is silent even when running the most demanding applications.

Amazon Fire TV will feature a flurry of channels including Hulu Plus, Netflix (NFLX) SHowtime, HBO GO, Bloomberg TV, WatchESPN and Vimeo, to name a few, and of course give users access to Amazon Prime's Instant Video. It's the "best place to watch the most popular movies and TV shows in the comfort of your own home," Larsen said.

"This is not a closed ecosystem," Larsen noted at the conference.

In the press release, Amazon announced eligible customers would get a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime when they purchase Fire TV.

Fire TV also brings photos, music, and games to the living room, the company said in a press release. "Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price--people are going to love Fire TV," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in a statement. "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."

Edit: One of the original tweets said no YouTube, but it indeed offers YouTube. It's not a native YouTube app.

The device puts Amazon further in competition with Apple and Google, both of which already offer streaming devices -- the Apple TV, and Chromecast, respectively. Apple TV costs $99 and comes in set-top box form, while the Chromecast runs $35 and comes in a dongle. Amazon's device will also compete with Roku, which makes its own streaming devices. Roku recently announced its own streaming dongle, selling at retail for $49.99.

Amazon's Larsen stressed the fact that Fire TV is faster and more powerful than what's out there. It features a quad-core processor, a dedicated GPU, and can handle 57 billion floating point operations per second, to go along with 2GB of RAM. It also features dual band, dual Wi-Fi with Mimo to help stop buffering, a problem other set-top boxes have had issues with. Larsen noted the Fire TV has three times the performance of Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku 3.

Larsen noted that consumers' most frequent complaints about streaming devices include difficulty in searching for shows, performance and buffering, and closed ecosystems.

In addition to the aforementioned features, Amazon's Fire TV has Dolby digital plus surround sound, and features voice search for navigating, built right in to the remote, as opposed to typing in the names of the shows or actors, similar to what is offered in competitor's devices.

The device is available on today, and Staples (SPLS), coming to on April 5, and in Staples stores, starting April 27.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia and Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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