Amazon Launches Fire TV Cube That Extends Alexa To The Home Theater
Amazon unveiled Thursday the Fire TV Cube, which is billed as a new hands-free 4K Ultra HD/HDR10 streaming media player with Alexa voice control that operates “even when the TV is off.”
The Fire TV Cube is equipped with eight far-field microphones, advanced beamforming technology, and Alexa voice AI software to help users control home entertainment devices, virtually hands free.
Amazon is taking pre-orders for the Fire TV Cube beginning today for $119.99. On June 7 and 8, Prime Members can pre-order Fire TV Cube for a special price of $89.99.
Customers who purchase and register a Fire TV Cube by July 1 will also receive a $10 credit for Prime Video, Amazon said. Then, beginning June 21, Fire TV devices will be eligible for unlimited access to tens of millions of songs with Amazon Music starting at just $3.99/month.
Of course, users will also have to get comfortable with the notion that the Fire TV Cube microphones are always on and listening for the Alexa trigger word to carry out a command. In this age of covert data collection by companies, online services, and maybe even a spy agency or two, more cautious users may not be willing to sacrifice the chance that their privacy is potentially being compromised.
But for those less sensitive to such matters–and the successful track record of millions of Alexa smart speakers suggests a lot of people are–the Fire TV Cube promises to bring a lot of convenience and a high rating on the “way cool” scale.
According to Amazon, Fire TV Cube users will be able to simply speak a command to easily and quickly power a connected TV on and off, change the volume, switch to different inputs, and change channels on a cable box or service connection.
The addition of the Amazon Fire TV Cube brings much of the convenience of a Fire TV Stick or set-top adapter, but where Fire TV media adapters typically offer Alexa to perform primarily program searches after pushing a button on a remote control before speaking, the Fire TV Cube brings the always-on convenience and extended capabilities of an Alexa smart speaker to the home theater system.
Now, for example, a Fire TV Cube user can simply say, “Alexa, Turn on the TV” to have the television turn on and await another command to begin hunting for a favorite channel or television program.
The Fire TV Cube accepts and executes voice commands to perform such functions as play, pause, and resume watching content within favorite video apps. Amazon pointed out that its chief OTT streaming service rival Netflix joins the growing list of popular apps that are now equipped with enhanced Alexa voice control skills through Fire TV.
As has been possible with past far-field equipped Alexa smart speakers, the Fire TV Cube will also accept and deliver answers to questions about a wide range of topics from the weather and the latest news reports, and will also enable control of compatible smart home devices, even when the TV is off.
For the widest range of device operation and support, Amazon said the Fire TV Cube uses multi-directional infrared technology, cloud based protocols and HDMI-CEC, to interact with Alexa. This enables controlling a compatible TV, sound bar, A/V receiver, and cable or satellite box by spoken commands.
The company said setup and use are similarly simpified for the user. The Amazon Fire TV Cube provides a guided setup for Alexa voice control. Like Amazon’s Fire TV adapters, the Amazon Fire TV Cube has access to “tens of thousands of channels, and apps,” in addition to a large and always growing catalog of Alexa skills for new devices and services.
The Fire TV Cube is also compatible with 4K Ultra HD and high dynamic range (HDR) content on supported apps and services, including: Netflix, Prime Videos and others.This is limited to the HDR10 profile at this time. It also supports Dolby Atmos object-based audio content (carried in Dolby Digital Plus signals for streaming efficiency and input compatibility). Cord cutters will also have access to popular live OTT streaming services such as PlayStation Vue.
“We believe voice makes it easier for customers to control their entertainment systems and watch the TV and movies they care about,” Marc Whitten, Fire TV VP said in a statement. “And, it’s just the beginning. Amazon Fire TV Cube will only get better over time with the Alexa service always getting smarter.”
The Fire TV Cube comes just as Amazon and Best Buy are in the process of introducing an expanded field of television sets with built-in Fire TV operation. This now includes a series of Toshiba-branded (and soon Insigna-branded) Fire TVs sold exclusively (through special licening arrangements) through Best Buy stores. These join Element brand and Westinghouse Fire TVs introduced last year.
But where those all-in-one televisions are typically more entry to mid-range performers, the Fire TV Cube provides the dynamic voice AI platform and 4K Ultra HD plus HDR streaming services access to step-up and potentially better performing television models.
By Greg Tarr
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