Amazon’s Netflix Challenger, Kinect’s Development Kit, PopCap’s Looming IPO

A little Tuesday catch-up following the holiday weekend (for us, anyway) in Seattle-area tech news:

• Amazon made its long-rumored Netflix challenge official with this morning’s announcement of a subscription streaming video service.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) already had an a la carte version called Instant Videos, which offers about 90,000 movie and TV titles. Today’s news is that a subset of those offerings—about 5,000 titles—can be streamed for free by members of Amazon Prime, the retailer’s premium shipping service.

The selection sounds like it will be familiar to Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) streaming customers. Amazon noted that titles like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Amadeus” will be available, which I happened to skip over just yesterday on my Netflix-enabled PlayStation 3.

But Amazon is also making a point to compete on price.

As others have pointed out, Netflix streaming alone costs about $8 a month, or $96 annually. Amazon Prime—based around unlimited fast shipping for select purchases—costs $79 per year, and the streaming videos are a complementary addition.

Which makes me wonder: Is this about streaming videos to consumers, or about building a broader empire known as Amazon Prime? Sounds like a classic loss-leader.

• Microsoft had some media types over for a tour yesterday and revealed plans to offer a Windows 7 development kit for the Kinect motion sensor. Check out Todd Bishop’s account over at TechFlash.

It’s another interesting turn in the short lifespan of the Kinect, which was quickly modified by users after its release, unleashing tons of interesting uses for a device originally intended to power cartoonish dance parties (which are quite fun).

A sanctioned development kit says something about Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) continued willingness to let developers play around with—and hopefully improve—its new toy.

When those Kinect mods first started showing up, the company’s official public reaction was disapproving. That changed rather quickly, however, and openness to other uses and platforms is now a key part of the Kinect’s appeal.

• PopCap is continuing to make noise about an IPO. Brier Dudley at The Seattle Times had a nice long sit-down with CEO Dave Roberts and reports that PopCap’s offering could come “in late fall.”

Roberts added that he doesn’t mind if the casual game space is cooling down a bit, and dodged Dudley’s follow-up question about whether an acquisition was actually part of the picture for PopCap.

Also, don’t miss the great Alan Berner photo of Roberts consulting with the office dog.

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