This Is the Set-Top Box Amazon Should Make

Here’s Some More Info on Amazon’s Set-Top Box.

Read on to “Get the Scoop”…

 Photo: Peter McCollough/Wired

Amazon's Set-Top Box Image

 It looks like Amazon is getting ready to enter the set-top box market. If so, the online retailer needs to go big or go home, because the competition is simply too intense for anything less than amazing.

Bloomberg reports the House that Bezos Built has a set-top box in the works. It cites three unnamed sources saying the Kindle TV Box, for lack of a better name, will allow the online retailer to remind everyone that, like Netflix, it has a streaming video service and it streams exclusive content.

This would put Amazon in direct competition with the Apple TV and Roku 3 streamers while giving it the chance to showcase its content instead of burying it in an app on a third-party device. It’s a smart move, but the company needs more than just a hockey puck-shaped device that lets you watch Downton Abbey. It needs to make a huge impression if it hopes to win customers away from Apple and Roku.

The Kindle Fire line includes more than just access to Instant Video. The forked-Android tablet’s app store includes Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services. The Kindle TV should similarly offer streaming from other services. No one will buy a set-top box that connects to just one service, even if it’s something with an ecosystem so robust as Amazon’s. The Instant Video app is already available on the Roku, tablets that connect to HDTVs, TiVo and Xbox 360. Amazon needs to offer more than the very best implementation of Instant Video; it needs to offer the best (or nearly the best) implementation of everything else. And it needs to be surrounded by a smooth, intuitive UI.

Part of that UI should be integration with pay-TV services from cable and satellite operators. According to a recent Nielsen study, only 10 percent of TV viewers have cut the cord. The Apple TV and Roku 3 are great set top boxes, but they take up valuable HDMI ports already being used by Blu-ray players, video game consoles, and DVRs. By placing a cable-card slot in the Kindle TV, Amazon could market the device as an all-in-one media center. Or better yet, get on board with Intel’s upcoming pay-TV service that’s transmitted via broadband. Intel could be looking for partners for its service.

As long as we’re telling Amazon what to cram into the box, we’ll add a DVR of course. Amazon’s cloud-based service, AWS just the ticket, perfect for a cloud-based DVR. The Boxee Cloud DVR already does this, but Boxee is still rolling out the service and the box doesn’t connect to cable. Amazon could roll it all out in one box, and as long as it’s cable-ready, it’ll replace the DVR cable box you fill every time you go away for three days.

While we’re at it, Amazon should include the cloud DVR service with Prime. Prime subscribers already get free video, and giving them a cloud-based DVR will making buying Amazon’s set-top box a no-brainer for them.

The whole package should be built atop a forked version of Android. Like the Kindle Fire, creating a semi-walled garden for apps would allow Amazon to push a device without having to create an entire operating system. But more importantly, Amazon could curate apps that enhance the Kindle TV experience. The Apple TV is the least exciting set-op box on the market because Apple keeps a tight grip on apps that run on the streamer. We’re still waiting for Cupertino to let us have HBO Go and Amazon’s Instant Video, for cryin’ out loud.

Amazon can tout a bevy of apps heading to the device much like Roku does. But with the Android base, those apps could include hundreds of games and apps. Amazon wants to sell you wares. So it would be no surprise if selling apps for the device was another revenue stream. In fact, don’t be surprised if you’re buying clothes, detergent, and soccer balls directly from your TV once the Kindle TV is available.

But the killer feature would be the price. If Amazon brought all these features to market for $99 or less, this all-in-one box would fly off virtual shelves. Amazon did this with the first Kindle Fire. Eventually the rest of the market caught up. But the battle for your HDMI ports is brutal. Just ask Google about Google TV. Amazon has the media, now it just needs a way to get it in front of your eyes.

And if it sells a few pairs of running shoes to you while you’ve paused Mad Men, well that’s exactly how the Amazon ecosystem works.

by Roberto Baldwin/