Review: Amazon’s Fire TV Falls Short, Voice Search Function Overhyped

It’s been two weeks since Amazon released their $99 streaming box Fire TV and after spending a good deal of time using it, I’m not impressed. Many reviewers have raved about the voice search functionality, but that only works across Amazon’s content service and Vevo. You can’t use it to find content on Netflix or Hulu Plus and the voice search results push you to Amazon to rent content, like House Of Cards, even though it’s free on Netflix. If content is available to stream free via another service, Amazon’s voice search won’t let you know that. The voice search also gets tricked up by words like Pokemon, instead returning results for “poop”. When the voice search works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, it’s useless.

Some might suggest that I should not be surprised that Amazon’s search results push users to content on Amazon’s streaming service, considering this is a box made by Amazon, but since the voice search works across Vevo, clearly the capability exists to bring it to more third party services. [Updated April 18th: Amazon has announced that support for voice search is coming to Hulu Plus, Crackle & Showtime services this summer.] I also don’t like how Amazon is marketing the box on their website with the phrase “say it. watch it” located above an image of all the content services on the box. Many consumers are going to think that Amazon is implying you can use the voice search function across all the content services listed, which you can’t.

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Another issue I have with the box is that Amazon made a point during their presentation to say how poor the search function is on a Roku, having to use their on-screen keyboard, but the non-voice search function on Amazon’s box is far worse. It’s as if no one at Amazon has actually used a Roku before. It takes far longer to use Amazon’s text based search function, having to first change the search default from voice to text. Then you have to do three steps just to get into the text search area and scroll through letters from A-Z, punching in each one manually. For ease of use, speed and simplicity, Roku’s text based search beats Amazon’s Fire TV hands down. So I find it odd for Amazon to try and tarnish Roku’s brand when in fact, Amazon’s box is the one that doesn’t do text search as well.

Amazon also demonstrated how quickly content starts up on their box, but that only happens for Amazon’s content service and even then, not all the time. Netflix and Hulu Plus don’t start up any faster on Amazon’s box than the Roku or Apple TV. Test results for me were nearly identical in startup times for Netflix content across Amazon, Roku and Apple’s streaming boxes. Amazon spent a lot of time during the unveiling of their box to focus on how quickly content starts up, but it’s really hit or miss. Amazon is guessing at what content most people may click on next and is pre-caching some of that content, but many times when I selected even popular movies from the menu, like Skyfall, it took 5-7 second to load.

In many instances, it feels like Amazon’s box was rushed out before it was really ready. The $40 game controller that goes with the box was available for purchase when the box was released, but it didn’t get delivered until a week after the box showed up. If you want one now, be prepared to wait a month. New orders for the game controller are now estimated to ship May 11th. Casual gaming is one of the biggest differentiators of this box compared to the other $99 streamers, but if you can’t get the game controller when you get the box, it defeats the purpose.

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When it comes to any box, content is king and right now, Amazon’s box sorely lacks content. The only content on the box, that matters, is from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, ESPN, Showtime and YouTube. Missing is HBO Go, MLB.TV, NHL GameCenter, NBA League Pass, Epix, Vudu, SlingPlayer, Major League Soccer, Redbox, WWE Network – all content services that Roku’s boxes currently have. Amazon did say that MLB.TV and the WWE Network are coming to the box, but didn’t say when. No doubt Amazon’s box will get much more content over time, but right out of the gate, the box lacks major content offerings. Also, some of the content apps, like YouTube, are simply ported from Google TV and it shows. The YouTube app has shortcuts for a keyboard, something you can’t use with Amazon’s Fire TV. So some apps aren’t specifically built just for Amazon’s box and have an old and outdated user interface.

We all know that Amazon has tremendous marketing power and the ability to sell a lot of these boxes very quickly simply due to all the eyeballs they have to their website. But Amazon is still going to have to convince consumers to buy their box when so many already have streaming capabilities on their TV, game console, Blu-ray player, Apple TV and/or other dedicated streaming media boxes. While Amazon’s box will improve over time, right now, it has no real selling point and advantage over the Roku.

I’m not sure why the media has gotten so excited over a voice search feature that only partially works, over only one major content service. If the Amazon Fire TV box didn’t have voice search functionality, there would be nothing about the box that isn’t already being done by Roku, at a much better level. Right now the Amazon Fire TV is clunky, un-polished and missing tons of content. If all you have is a subscription to Amazon Prime, then this box might suit you just fine. But if you want to do more than just stream content from Amazon and want a box that doesn’t feel like it’s in beta, don’t pick the Amazon Fire TV, get a Roku 3 instead.

Blue Coat Releases Data On The Impact Of Web & Video Caching Inside Operator Networks

Transparent caching plays a very important role in the content delivery market and is a segment of the content delivery industry that is seeing rapid growth ($350M by 2016). To showcase just how much content these caches deliver, industry vendor Blue Coat recently gave me an insight into the data that’s collected by their CachePulse technology.

Blue Coat gets tremendous visibility on the web and how it is changing through its hundreds of collection points and prominent position in some of the world’s largest enterprise and telco networks. In 2013 for example, all the deployed Blue Coat CacheFlow appliances processed over 850 petabytes of data and handled over 13.5 trillion requests. To put this roughly 35 billion requests each day into context, Google in comparison does about six billion searches and Facebook has about 5 billion likes each day.

Digging into Blue Coat’s findings from CachePulse for 2013 there are some expected trends, but also some surprises. To no surprise, video traffic dominated representing more than half (or roughly 55%) of all traffic. And while readers in the US immediately think of Netflix, in reality Netflix is a small player globally. YouTube (including Google Video) remains as the number one traffic driver with DailyMotion a close second. A bit more surprising was the prominent role file sharing and large file updates are playing in shaping traffic patterns. This includes the common Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows updates that regularly clog networks, as well as P2P-based sharing getting replaced with web-based direct download alternatives such as 4Shared, MediaFire and FileFactory.

Driving only a few percentage points of traffic today, gaming has shown big gains increasing 33% over last six months. Sites like Steam, Playstation and Xbox are at the forefront of this shift. Popular downloads like the supersized-18GB Grand Theft Auto V release serve as a great example of the content driving this growth as packaged games shift to 100% digital downloads. And with the recent, frothy acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, who can forget about social networks. No surprise Facebook continues to be the leader, followed by Tumblr and Keek respectively. Ranked in the top 30 sites globally, the Russian social network VK (or VKontakte) is also an up and coming player to keep an eye on.

Since Blue Coat has a significant portion of its business deeply entrenched in web security through CachePulse they also gain visibility on security trends on the web at large. In the 2013 findings, Blue Coat found that each day 150,000 GB of the traffic they processed was categorized as ‘suspicious’ while more than 25,000 GB was confirmed as ‘officially’ malware.

So what does this all mean? While the general content mix and the dominance of video is not surprising, smaller shifts around the traffic mix (from P2P to web or with the uptick of gaming), the key players (such as Netflix or VK), or the prominence of suspicious or malicious content is noteworthy. And considering that for 2013 Blue Coat on average saw roughly 80% of this traffic being fully cacheable, there’s a clear role that transparent caching technology – whether with Blue Coat CacheFlow or other solutions – can provide in optimizing this content – whatever it may be – to speed the user experience or provider operational or cost efficiencies, as well as potentially providing an overlay of security and malware protection.

NAB News: All Mobile Video To Acquire AEG Digital Media

AEG-Digital-Media_CMYK_FINAL-e1355953437887This morning, All Mobile Video announced it has entered into an agreement to purchase live event production specialists AEG Digital Media, based in Los Angeles, CA. The company specializes in live event webcasting, video production and TV Everywhere workflows and was the digital arm of AEG. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but AEG Digital had a few million dollars in revenue last year, so the deal size isn’t that big. AEG had been shopping their digital group for some time and AEG Digital is a perfect fit for All Mobile Video.

Those outside of the video production and live event industry would not know All Mobile Video, but the NYC based company is one of the best in the market when it comes to providing on-site mobile production and editing trucks, extensive uplink solutions and has Manhattan based sound stages with full post-production capabilities. The company has been around a long time and was one of the first AV companies in the industry to really work closely with webcasters when large scale, live events first started on the web. We worked with them in 2000 or earlier when I was at Globix. All Mobile Video has been helped produce corporate live events for everyone from Apple, GM and Pfizer to major sporting events for ESPN, NFL and the NCAA. AEG Digital’s client roster is just as impressive, with the company having worked on events for Disney, FOX, CBS and Google amongst others.

There are a lot of individuals who produce live events, but when it comes to companies that focus on it as a specialty, it’s really AEG Digital, iStreamPlanet and Origin Digital that lead the market. iStreamPlanet’s business has really taken off as of late and moved them to the front of the pack, but with AEG and All Mobile Video now combining their companies and solution sets, they should also be able to grow their business and capture more of the market for live events services and workflows.

NAB Streaming News Roundup: 4K, Video Workflows & HEVC Lead The List

I’m not at the NAB show this year, but I’ve been keeping an eye on all the news and have already seen more than 700 releases from vendors at the show. I’ve sorted through them and pulled out all the ones having to do with the streaming and online video industry and not surprisingly, 4K and video workflow are the hot topics this year, along with transcoding and HEVC.

Here’s the roundup from releases put out over the weekend and on Monday. If I didn’t include your company’s release, send me a link to it in email. Acquisition news is at the top of the list, all the others are listed in no particular order.

NAB News: Imagine Communications Acquires Digital Rapids, Estimate Deal Value At $100M-$150M

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 1.54.01 PMIf you’re looking for a theme at NAB this year, look no further than media management and the video ecosystem as being the hot topics. Imagine Communications, formerly called Harris Broadcast, announced it has acquired privately held Digital Rapids. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but I put the price above $100M. Digital Rapids had about $35M in revenue for 2013, so if their projected 2014 revenue was given a valuation of about 3x, which seems to be the average in the space right now, that puts the deal between $100M-$150M in size. Digital Rapids specializes on helping broadcasters with their ingesting, encoding, transcoding and broadcast workflow.

Imagine Communication has confirmed that Digital Rapids President and CEO Brick Eksten along with his management team will be joining Imagine Communications. Specifically, Brick will lead efforts for a significant portion of their next generation cloud-based workflow platform. Digital Rapids has a main location in Toronto, which is less than five miles from Imagine Communications existing Development Center and the majority of Digital Rapids employees will move to the Imagine Communications facility nearby. Imagine Communications said the vast majority of Digital Rapids employees are engineers who will support key R&D developments underway at Imagine, but also included are customer support, key sales, and other employees.

Imagine Communications acquisition of Digital Rapids now gives the company high-end media processing applications that will strengthen their TV Everywhere business, which seems to be getting more traction as of late. Imagine Communications has made a lot of moves over the past few months and is an interesting company to keep an eye on. I suspect the company has one or two smaller acquisitions they are working on to further strengthen their video workflow platform for broadcasters.