Update: Citing a "350 percent" growth in its video streaming service, Amazon unveiled its own streaming media device on Wednesday: Amazon Fire TV. The small set-top box will let Amazon compete with Apple TV, Roku, and ChromeCast in the hardware battle over TV streaming services. The fireTV will include a voice-activated search and (as anticipated by many), can double as a gaming console. The Fire TV will cost $99, or the same as Apple TV. It's available to ship today

"We're selling millions of streaming media devices on Amazon.com ... we hear what's working, we hear what's not working," Amazon's Vice President in charge of Kindle Peter Larsen told a room full of reporters during the announcement. The three things Amazon thinks are weak on other streaming devices? Search, slow performance, and a closed ecosystem of available streaming services on the device. "It drives me bananas that I can't watch my Prime Instant Video on my Apple TV," Larsen added. 

Presumably, Amazon sees Fire TV as a solution to those problems with other devices. As of now, the apps on Fire TV  include Netlifx, Hulu, WatchESPN, MLB, Crackle, MLB, Vimeo, NBA, and YouTube, according to the Verge. And, Larsen claimed in his presentation that the device is three times as fast as its competitors. The interface, demoed by Larsen, is pretty simple but peppered with things like "ASAP," which seems to be a feature that predicts what you might want to watch next. Fire TV's voice activated search will use the small remote that comes with the box. Amazon is touting it as a solution to the clunky search capabilities of competing streaming devices. 

As for gaming, Fire TV customers will be able to play on the small remote, on a tablet, or with a $39.99 controller called the Fire game controller. Games will cost about $1.85 on average, according to Amazon. The library includes games from Amazon's own Game Studios. 

 Other features include more integration with "X-ray," which allows you to access information on what you're watching on a Fire HDX tablet; a kid-friendly version of the interface called FreeTime; and a photo interface. Music is coming to the Fire TV next month, Larsen added. 

Original post: Amazon is expected to launch a streaming video device for TVs today, entering the company into a market that's already populated with Apple TVs, Rokus, and Chromecasts. Amazon will give a lot more details on the gadget at a Wednesday morning press conference, but until then, here's what we know about the device so far: 

  • It'll run on Android. As Re/Code points out, this makes sense — so does the Kindle Fire. 
  • Users can access Amazon's video streaming service, currently available to Prime Members, as well as content from third-party streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. According to GigaOm, it's unlikely that a YouTube app will launch with the device.
  • Why: Amazon already knows that Kindle users spend more time and money on average on Amazon than non-Kindle users do, as Business Insider noted. So the streaming device is a pretty obvious conduit into the realm of their streaming content. Amazon, at least in large part, is hoping that the hardware will lead users to purchase more of the company's digital offerings. 
  • It already has competitors. The device serves a very similar function as Apple TV and Chromecast do, both as a streaming device and as a gateway to streaming content for purchase from the company behind the hardware. 

And here are some of the big variables: 

  • Cost: This is a big question, but many watchers seem to think it only makes sense for Amazon to launch its own hardware if it's dirt cheap. Given that the ChromeCast costs just $35, it's possible that Amazon could go even lower. 
  • Look: It's still not clear whether Amazon's new product is more of a Chromecast-like dongle, or a set-top box. TechCrunch believes it'll probably end up being the former. 
  • Extra features: Leaked images of an Amazon-branded gaming controller fueled speculation that the streaming device would be able to play games, but that remains to be seen. 

In any case, today's launch is a long time coming. After working on the product for the better part of a year, Amazon delayed the launch of the streaming device until after the holidays.