- Amazon's new Fire TV Cube is a set-top box that puts Alexa front and center with eight far-field microphones.
- You can use your voice to not only stream content but change the channel on your cable box, thanks to the IR blaster.
- New "content-forward" interface makes it easier to find things to watch.
- The Fire TV Cube is available for pre-order today and costs $120. It's $90 for Prime members (until June 9).
Alexa's got a new home in your living room: the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
Available for pre-order today for $120 and shipping June 21, this set-top-box packs Amazon's refined Fire TV experience and places Alexa in the center of your home entertainment world, allowing the assistant to control your cable box and other equipment. The Fire TV Cube supports 4K Ultra HD content at up to 60 fps, as well as HDR content at the HDR-10 spec.
I saw the Fire TV Cube in action at a private briefing with Amazon, which began with Sandeep Gupta, vice president of product development of Amazon's Smart TV and Home Products division, simply saying "Alexa, I'm home."
Not only did the blue bar at the top edge of the Fire TV Clube light up with its signature pulsing glow, but the TV connected to the device — and the standing lights to the left and right of the TV — also turned on. The Fire TV Cube is outfitted with eight microphones for far-field voice recognition, so that it can hear you from across the room. We look forward to testing this out, as our demo took place in a small hotel room.
Those microphones should hear you well, as the Fire TV Cube — sitting next to the TV — picked up on Sandeep saying "Alexa" while the volume for the Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer was boomingly-high. And he wasn't shouting or straining his voice to fight the sound. When you're looking for silence, asking "Alexa, mute the TV," will silence the screen.
This was how I got my first taste of the new "content-forward" user interface, which presented rows of streaming media apps, shows to watch, recommended content from connected services and suggestions of what's on now. When Sandeep said "Alexa, show more," the large splash screen advertising the History channel's "SIX" show disappeared, to show more rows of content.
Each row of content had a number at the front, such as "6. Netflix Recommends," "7. On Now" and "8. Your Channels." Sandeep demonstrated that these numbers can be used by saying "Alexa, select 9," which is easier and more natural than saying "Alexa, select PS Vue Recommends." This interface will look familiar to owners of Amazon's Echo Show. You can ask for those services by name, if you prefer.
But since Amazon knows that not everyone has cut the cord, the Fire TV Cube works with cable boxes, too. So, saying "Alexa, tune to CNN on cable" made the box use its connected IR blaster to switch the channel on the cable box, and switch the TV (connected via HDMI to the Fire TV Cube)'s input to the cable box.
That last part, that it can jump between inputs, was my favorite part of the Fire TV Cube, which was only hard-connected to the TV. The Fire TV Cube is compatible with set-top boxes from major providers, including Comcast, DirecTV and Dish, and Amazon says the total number of covered providers is "more than 90 percent of households with a cable or satellite subscription."
Of course, since this is an Alexa device, you can perform all of the same smart home commands you're used to, and it uses your TV to show the weather forecast and all the other tricks it's done on the Echo Show. That means you can ask Alexa to "start the party" so it can play a fun playlist from Amazon Music, and then ask it to show lyrics. The Fire TV Cube also comes with Flash Briefings, those short, bite-sized reels of news footage to catch you up on the day.
The Fire TV Cube also connects to Amazon's Cloud Cam, which shows you live footage from a fixed point of view. We liked the Cloud Cam for its inexpensive price, but were annoyed that the $119 camera required a monthly subscription to unlock all of its features. Amazon will provide a limited-time sale packing a Cloud Cam and a Fire TV Cube together for $200, for a savings of $40. If you buy and register a Fire TV Cube before July 1, you'll get a $10 credit for Amazon Prime Video.
We look forward to testing out the Fire TV Cube's hearing and streaming capabilities for ourselves in the near future.