The $119.99 cube-shaped device is part Fire TV set-top box, part Echo, and 100 percent awesome for controlling your entertainment system with Alexa voice commands.
This is the the TV future we’ve all been waiting for.
To be clear, there are already several ways to use Alexa commands to control your Fire TV and entertainment setup, but none are as convenient and easy to set up as the Fire TV Cube. If you own a Fire TV, you can use its Alexa Remote for voice commands, but you still need to press and hold the microphone button.
Alternatively, you can connect an Amazon Echo to your Fire TV for true hands-free voice controls, but good luck figuring out how to get your cable box or sound bar working with them.
The Fire TV Cube simplifies all of these cumbersome steps with an all-in-one device that just works with Alexa voice commands.
Right off the bat, it’s immediately apparent the Fire TV Cube is an Amazon product. The plain black cube is small and unassuming when placed on top of a media center next to a flatscreen.
All four sides of the glossy plastic box are “IR transparent” with an IR blaster inside that’s capable of controlling any compatible devices.
The only giveaways that the box is more than meets the eye is a thin LED strip on the front that lights up blue when you say the “Alexa” wake word, the familiar Echo control buttons (volume, mute, and a push-to-activate-Alexa button), and the eight far-field microphone holes located on the top.
On the back, you’ve got a couple of ports. A Micro USB port, an IR port, HDMI, and power.
Inside, there’s 1.5GHz quad-core processor and 16GB of storage (double the regular 8GB Fire TV 4K). The Fire TV Cube also supports Dolby Atmos audio.
And, don’t you worry, there’s still an Alexa Remote included in the box.
TV is better with Alexa
Of course, the box is less important than the TV experience, and man, does it look good.
After giving me a brief intro on the Fire TV Cube and the challenges Amazon wanted to solve (namely, the complicated setup for adding Alexa to your TV and easier content discovery), Sandeep Gupta, vice president of product development for Amazon Fire TV, wasted no time with a demo.
“Alexa, I’m home,” Gupta said to the Fire TV Cube.
With just that one voice command, the smart lights illuminated, the TV turned on, and the sound bar was ready to go.
“We use [HDMI] CEC to turn on the TV, IR to turn on my sound bar, and an Alexa skill to turn on the lights,” said Gupta. “So all of that coming together, orchestrated by the Fire TV Cube. So it uses every simple easy way to come home and turn on the lights and start watching TV.”
He then continued to ask Alexa to find him a drama, add Suits to his watch list, scroll the menus, download Crossy Road, switch TV inputs, and more.
I had a go, and though I didn’t show it in front of Gupta, I was absolutely floored inside. The Fire TV Cube is exactly the kind of hands-free TV viewing experience we’ve all been waiting for. No more remote controls — just tell your TV what you want and it does it all for you.
Amazon has tweaked the Fire TV interface specifically for far-field voice controls. It’s a familiar tile-based UI, but one with multiple ways to access your content. For example, to select shows and apps, you can either call them by their title name or the number labeled next to them.
“It borrows a lot from what we do on the Echo Show with a nice grid layout that’s easy to navigate — obviously expanded because you can do more with this bigger [TV] canvas,” said Gupta.
At launch, only some apps, such as PlayStation Vue, will have full-blown voice controls, but the plan is for all apps to eventually work with Alexa commands only.
One of those apps is Netflix, which is a huge win for Amazon. Gupta told me the streaming video service will have full Alexa voice control support when the Fire Cube TV is released later this month.
Apps without Alexa voice controls will default to the Alexa Remote for controls, which kinda sucks. Hopefully that’s just temporary and apps will get updated quickly.
All the contents, even from your cable box
Fire TV Cube users will have access to all of the content already available from Fire TV, including Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Channels, etc. Apps like PlayStation Vue and Hulu that have live content also work with voice controls, so you can say something like “Alexa, tune into CNN on PlayStation Vue,” and then continue to switch between channels within the app.
The Fire TV Cube also works with your cable box, because you know, not everyone has cut the cord. Gupta showed me how this worked and it’s practically black magic.
“Alexa, tune into CNN on cable,” Gupta said to the Fire TV Cube.
The Fire TV Cube automatically changed the input on the TV to the cable box and then IR-blasted the CNN channel number to the cable box.
All of this happens invisibly and in a split second so that you don’t even notice the digital handshake between the Fire TV Cube, TV, and cable box.
“It’s kind of effortless and the goal here is to reach the devices that our customers already have and not have to redefine how to do things,” said Gupta. “When you set up your device, you tell us your cable company, your location, and we do the rest for you. We get your channel lineup, we put it in the cloud, we voice enable it so we take care of it for you. Users don’t need to do anything to set up IR; it’s done with this device.”
Fire TV Cube users will also notice many Alexa skills will have visual information — the same kind you’ll find on the Echo Show. For instance, if you ask Alexa for the weather, it’ll show the forecast on your TV. Or if you ask for a news flash briefing, it’ll show a video clip along with it. Or if you play Jeopardy, you’ll actually be able to see answer on the TV, while the Fire Cube TV listens for voice answers.
One particular feature I liked was for Amazon Music. If you’re playing a song, you can ask Alexa to show lyrics on the screen and they’ll scroll while the song plays. It’s like your own karaoke setup.
Alexa, can you hear me?
Naturally, you’re probably wondering how well an Echo speaker can pick up your voice if it’s next to a sound bar or TV speaker that’s playing pretty loud.
Gupta says they’ve arranged the far-field microphones inside of the Fire TV Cube vertically instead of horizontally so it’s not a problem. And sure enough, in my demo, the Fire TV Cube was still able to hear my voice clearly, even next to a sound bar.
And if you have another Echo already installed in the same room as the Fire TV Cube, Gupta says the bias will be towards the Fire TV Cube. Amazon believes this is what the user will expect and want, but they’ll be collecting user feedback to see if it matches with intent once the product’s released.
RIP remote controls
Amazon’s Fire TV Cube looks to be the gadget to rule our entertainment setup. It might actually inch us closer to never needing a remote control ever again.
And to that, I say good riddance. How many times have you lost your TV remote? Who can even look at a cable remote and not vomit from the million buttons?
Voice controls are the future, and Amazon’s leading the charge with the Fire TV Cube.