With Amazon’s newest device, you can now yell at your TV from across the room — and it will listen and respond to you.
The e-commerce giant officially has taken the wraps off the Fire TV Cube. Priced at $119.99, the cube essentially melds an Amazon Echo voice-activated speaker with a 4K internet set-top box. Details of the product first leaked out last September.
It’s not especially revolutionary: The Fire TV Cube is really just a more convenient way to access Alexa voice controls on Amazon’s living-room hub, as it continues to fight for share in the home voice-assistant market against Apple, Google and others. The standard Fire TV 4K Ultra HD device ($69.99) provides voice controls through an Alexa-enabled remote, while the company added the ability to control Fire TVs with Echo devices last summer. Amazon also has integrated Alexa skills with several third-party consumer-electronics partners.
The Fire TV Cube is designed to let you control your TV and other home-entertainment devices using just your voice, but it will also include a remote control — a recognition that many consumers still want to watch TV the old-fashioned way. The Cube also ships with an infrared-extender cable and Ethernet adapter.
Fire TV Cube uses the same eight-microphone technology used in the Amazon Echo, enabling “far-field” voice recognition. The device is designed to suppress noise, including the sound from whatever’s currently playing on the TV, to be able to let Alexa better comprehend your requests. However, if users already have an Echo in the same room that they’re going to use the Fire TV Cube, Amazon recommends moving the Echo to a different location so you don’t trigger both devices at once.
Like the Echo, the Fire TV Cube has a speaker so you can use it if the TV is off — in fact, it can turn on the TV. Through Fire TV Cube, you can ask Alexa to check the weather, tell jokes, look up info and access many of the skills available on Echo devices, and the responses will come through the device speaker.
Now, why is it cube-shaped? (Well, nearly so: It’s actually 3.4 by 3.4 by 3 inches.) Amazon needed a larger form factor than the regular Fire TV to fit in the microphones and other components to support a full Alexa client. But it didn’t want to use the cylinder or round puck shapes of the Echo line, because a cube design would fit in better with home-entertainment setups.
The default interface of the Fire TV Cube is slightly redesigned for voice navigation (though users can switch to a remote-optimized version). For example, in search listings, titles include numbers so that users can just say, “Alexa, play number three.” The Cube also pops up prompts suggesting ways users can interact with the Fire TV Cube using their voice, such as, “Try saying: Alexa, show me more results.”
Using IR and HDMI CEC, Fire TV Cube can control any compatible TV, sound bar, A/V receiver, and cable or satellite TV set-top. You can tell Alexa to power your TV on or off, increase or lower the volume (or mute), switch to different inputs, and change the cable channel, among other things.
Fire TV Cube is compatible with set-top boxes from pay-TV providers — including Comcast, Charter Communications, Dish Network and AT&T’s DirecTV — covering more than 90% of U.S. households. The controls let users access pay-TV lineups by channel, but not down to the program level. For example, you can say, “Alexa, watch ESPN” but it won’t understand “Alexa, record ‘Game of Thrones’ on HBO.”
Amazon has taken many of the Alexa skills developed for the Echo Show and ported them to big-screen TVs with the Fire TV Cube. Those include being able to switch to smart-home camera feeds, watching video flash briefings, viewing sports scores, pulling up extended weather forecasts, and accessing movie showtimes for nearby theaters.
The Fire TV Cube is available for pre-order starting Thursday for $119.99 and will begin shipping June 21. Currently, it’s available only in the U.S.
To promote the Fire TV Cube, Amazon is offering Prime members the ability to pre-order it June 7-8 for $89.99 (a $30 discount). In another limited-time promo, it’s offering Fire TV Cube and Amazon Cloud Cam together for $199.98 (a $40 discount).
Customers who buy and register their Fire TV Cube by July 1 will receive a $10 credit for Prime Video. In addition, starting on June 21, owners of Fire TV devices can sign up to Amazon Music for $3.99 per month, which normally is $7.99 monthly for Prime members.