Amazon Expanding Fire TV Voice Search, No Netflix Yet

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." 

MORE: Amazon Fire TV Review

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.

Follow Sean Captain @seancaptain and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+. 


Sean Captain is a freelance technology and science writer, editor and photographer. At Tom's Guide, he has reviewed cameras, including most of Sony's Alpha A6000-series mirrorless cameras, as well as other photography-related content. He has also written for Fast Company, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired. 

  • Dr-Emmerich
    It will be Apple TV and Roku with any box from Amazon a distant 3rd.
  • DennisHeadleyOH
    Who cares. All the voice search options in the world do not make up for the fact that despite the Fire TV being made by Amazon it is the absolute worst Instant video player on the market by far.

    I mean come on, all your video library is stored in one long scrolling window that you cannot even separate out in TV and movies like every other device that plays Instant video. I will never understand why your Instant video library cannot be sorted into all the categories that the prime and movie/TV sales channels are. Stupidest UI design choice ever. We have over 1300 titles and you have to start at 1 and scroll all the way to 1300 in the order you purchased them.

    Then unlike every other player we have for instant video ( R3 models of ROKU players, iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches, Sony streaming box, Sony BD player etc.) there is no indication of what you have watched previously or not. No bar to indicate where you left off halfway through an episode from the menu like every single other player does for their content.

    Then to top it off, in your video library, mixed in with your purchased content you get advertisements letting you know that the episode is also available in Hulu. This is not an add supported device dumb asses. But hey thanks for riddling my paid content with icons that give me the choice to skip my HD commercial free content in favor of watching it on Hulu.

    Stupid decisions at every turn that make this the worst player you could ever buy for Amazon content.
  • XGrabMyY
    Amazon Prime users can't filter out the Prime subscriber videos (free with subscription) and you can't voice search competing services, just Amazon Prime Video. It is DOA, a worthless pile of kit