Four Things Amazon Could Bring to the Media Playing Party

Amazon is reportedly preparing to launch a set-top box to support its Prime streaming media service. Details are fuzzy beyond the guess that it may launch in March, but despite the still tenuous grip on fact, such a move wouldn’t be surprising for the e-commerce giant. Amazon has had some notable success in the hardware market, first with its Kindle e-reader and later with the Kindle Fire line of tablets.

In both those cases, Amazon was offering something distinct from the market: tight integration with a mammoth bookstore and a unique “fork” of the Android operating system that kept consumers walled into Amazon’s eco-system of content. The fundamental question(s) as a possible set-top box looms is what, exactly, could Amazon bring to an already crowded party to stand out in the crowd?

Here are a few possibilities:

Gaming

Of the many rumors swirling around a possible Amazon box, some gaming component appears to be the most credible (Amazon has been hiring game developers). The Roku has some gaming capability but it’s crude.  You can “game” on the Apple TV via AirPlay and an iPad, but it’s not the box’s primary purpose. Amazon, reportedly, wants a more robust system capable of competing with an upstart generation of Android-based consoles such as the Ouya.

TV Commerce

Beyond getting consumers to subscribe to Amazon Prime, an Amazon box could leverage the TV for commerce. The Kindle Fire has certainly driven Amazon product sales. According to a survey of Kindle and non-Kindle owners, the former drop $1,233 a year on Amazon vs. $790 for the later. It’s a good bet that a majority of these purchases are digital goods (apps, games, e-books, etc.), but they don’t have to be. The set top box isn’t as natural an e-commerce platform as the tablet, but given the right UI, Amazon may be able to move more physical goods through a TV storefront.

HEVC Support

Amazon has already committed to filming its slate of 2014 original programming in 4K. It would be a major selling point if its media player supported the HEVC codec vital to delivering 4K video over the open internet. No other retail media player can (yet) make that boast.  It would also require HDMI 2.0 to output the highest quality 4K signal to the newest (and most expensive) UltraHD TVs slated for store shelves later this year.

Drone Delivery

File this under pie-in-the-sky, but a geek can dream. We know Amazon is working on a delivery drone  (“working” or simply playing for free media attention). A set-top box is small, lightweight and has an ideal form factor for delivery via drone. While it would be relatively easy for Amazon’s competitors to add HEVC and gaming to their boxes, none of them will be able to catch Amazon in the skies.