In introducing it's $99 set top box, Fire TV, last month, Amazon played up its voice search function as revolutionizing the process of finding content online. But in fact, all it did was revolutionize the search for Amazon content and Vevo music videos, as no other services supported the feature (except Hulu Plus, but in a halfhearted manner).
Today (Apr. 17) Amazon took a step to making Voice Search more than a parlor trick by announcing that it will soon support Hulu Plus (fully) as well as free video site Crackle and cable TV companion app Showtime Anywhere. As for timing, Amazon stated only that the upgrade would come "starting this summer."
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Absent, at least for now, are the thousand-pound gorillas of online video, Netflix and YouTube, which account for the lion's share of online video viewing, with Amazon a distant third (according to a recent survey by research firm NPD).
Voice Search is a novel feature among typical set-top boxes such as Roku and Apple TV (though it is a prominent feature of Xbox One). Users activate it Siri-style by holding down a microphone button on the top if the Fire TV's slim remote and speaking into a built-in mic just above the button.
In our tests, Voice Search more or less worked. It finds easy-to-distinguish names and titles such as "Madonna" but couldn't make out "Pharrell Williams." Nor could it make out the name of Amazon's own premier game for the Fire TV, "Sev Zero" (offering as suggestions "Send Zero" and "70.")
Today, Voice Search can access only Amazon Video and Vevo, with limited support for Hulu. If you search for a title that is in both Amazon's and Hulu's catalogs, Fire TV will show you both options so you can chose the cheaper (depending for example on whether you have a Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime subscription). Roku's search function is far more powerful, searching about a dozen of the most popular video sources at once, but with the tedious method of using the remote to peck out letters on an onscreen keyboard (or using the soft keyboard on its Android and iOS apps).
Amazon lampooned its rivals' reliance on this hunt and peck method with a surreal commercial starting Gary Busey talking to every device in his home, and yelling at a set-top-box remote, before he finally finds one that will listen — Fire TV.
Amazon also announced that a downloadable software update will bring its kid-friendly mode, FreeTime and the Amazon MP3 music service - features announced at the product launch but not yet available. As with the Voice Search expansion, Amazon did not say when exactly the updates would be available.
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