Can Amazon Light a Fire [Stick] Under Cable?

With its introduction of the Fire TV Stick yesterday, Amazon became the third major retail company to launch an HDMI adapter for the consumer market in the past year and a half. So now the question is: When will cable companies follow suit?

Like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Chromecast and Roku Inc. 's Streaming Stick, the new device from Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) makes dumb televisions smart by adding wireless connectivity through a TV's HDMI port. However, Amazon has one-upped the competition by including a dual-core processor and 1GB of memory, along with 8GB of Flash storage. In contrast, both the Chromecast and Roku adapters have single-core processors and 512MB of memory. The Chromecast has 2GB of storage, while the Roku stick has 256MB.

The Fire TV Stick supports most of the same video streaming services that its competitors do, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus and YouTube, although it's missing support for HBO Go. The device comes with a remote control for the on-screen interface and can be operated via select mobile apps. It can also mirror content from any Android or Fire OS device, and packs in added features such as voice search and the option to bundle in an Amazon game controller for gaming apps. The Fire TV Stick retails for $39, or $19 for Amazon Prime members until October 29.

Consumers clearly like cheap streaming sticks – as evidenced by the millions of Chromecast devices already sold – and the launch of Amazon's new HDMI adapter may prompt the cable industry to take a closer look at the tiny set-top form factor. There's already been some activity among industry players. Earlier this year, Alticast Corp. introduced an HDMI stick for the cable market with embedded support for its own HTML5 application framework as well as the cable-ready Reference Design Kit (RDK) platform. Major set-top manufacturers Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Pace Micro Technology have also all said they're exploring development based on operator interest. (See Next Up: RDK Streaming Sticks.)

Want to know more about HDMI streaming sticks and other OTT developments? Check out our dedicated OTT content channel here on Light Reading.

However, there's trepidation along with the excitement over HDMI adapters in the cable space. The performance requirements for a pay-TV service are much higher than those for over-the-top video, and companies are unsure they'll be able to deliver the quality of a traditional set-top in the form of a device like Amazon's Fire TV Stick. As Pace Chief Technologist Darren Fawcett put it back in March, "What we're seeing is technology is evolving, but also requirements are creeping up." (See Can Cable Stick One on Chromecast?)

If cable companies don't join the streaming stick parade, it's a good bet that wireless operators will. MobiTV Inc. has repeatedly said it will partner in the near future with an Internet service provider on delivery of an OTT service over an HDMI stick, or possibly another type of lightweight set-top. In September, the company disclosed to The Donahue Report that at least two US wireless carriers will move forward with OTT services next year using an HDMI adapter for delivery. (See MobiTV Takes Aim at the… TV.)

Streaming sticks are undoubtedly gaining momentum. It will be interesting to see who else jumps on the bandwagon in 2015 and when, or if, cable decides to join.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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