Amazon (AMZN) has debuted a new version of its Fire TV that mashes up the streaming box with the company’s super-popular Echo speaker. The new Fire TV Cube, available June 21 for $119, or $89 if you’re a prime member and pre-order it between June 7 and June 8, is designed to serve as a high-end Fire TV that you can completely control via Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.
The thrust of the Fire TV Cube is that it can do virtually everything an Echo can, as well as let you control nearly all aspects of your television-watching experience.
During a demo of the Cube, Amazon’s global director of marketing for the Fire TV brand, Jennifer Prenner, explained how you can tell the Cube to turn on your TV and soundbar and tune to a specific cable channel using nothing but your voice.
Embracing streaming and cable
That’s right — despite the fact that the Fire TV is one of the best streaming devices around, Prenner says Amazon wanted to ensure Cube can control your cable box.
“We want customers to have access to any content they want, no matter where they get it from,” she said.
The Fire TV Cube, as its name suggests, is a small black cube that sits next to your TV — you can also get an infrared cable extender to park your Cube inside your entertainment cabinet.
Like Amazon’s Echo devices, the Cube features a blue indicator light that tells you when Alexa is listening. There are also mute and volume buttons along the top of the Cube.
It’s important to note that you can currently pair a Fire TV with an existing Echo speaker. But that experience isn’t exactly seamless, and a standalone Echo can’t control nearly as many aspects of your entertainment system as the Cube can.
The Fire TV Cube’s user interface is more or less unchanged from previous Fire TV systems. In fact, if you decide to use a remote, you won’t notice any difference at all. But if you’re into using your voice, the Cube will let you do everything from open menus to scroll through lists of shows.
Not sure what you want to watch? You can tell the Cube to show you specific genres and browse the various shows and movies available through your streaming providers. When watching content, you’ll be able to use your pipes to pause shows, raise and lower the volume, fast-forward and rewind, jump to the next episode and browse all episodes.
During my demo session, Prenner only picked up the Cube’s remote once, and that was to download the Firefox browser to show me how you can also use your voice to pull up YouTube videos.
A little Fire, a little Show
The Fire Cube also takes advantage of some of the same content Amazon uses to power its Echo Show. When you ask Alexa to show you the weather, for instance, it will pull up a forecast that looks exactly like that displayed on the Show. The same is true for Flash Briefings and games like “Jeopardy.” The Cube can even stream a live view of your connected webcam to your big-screen TV.
I’m a big fan of the Show; I use it every morning to check the weather and listen to music on it whenever I have company over or want to blast some Taylor Swift and have a good cry — so I’m glad to see that the the same functionality has made its way to the Cube.
Like any Alexa-powered device in Amazon’s stable, the Cube will let you control your various smart home devices and take advantage of Alexa’s tens of thousands of skills.
Of course, the Cube has the chops to run with the big dogs when it comes to streaming devices, too. Like the Apple (AAPL) TV 4K, the Cube can stream 4K, HDR content. The Apple TV 4K, however, starts at $179 with 32GB of storage. The Cube gets 16GB of space for $119. A standard Apple TV costs $149. Roku’s (ROKU) 4K, HDR Ultra box costs $99.
What it can’t do
When the Cube initially hits the market later this month, there will be a few Alexa features that it won’t be able to use. For one, it won’t be able to support multi-room playback, so if you want to fill your entire house with the sounds of LFO, you’ll need to use a different Echo in your living room.
You also won’t be able to send or recieve messages, or make calls from the Cube. Prenner says that multi-room playback will hit the Cube in the future; they’re just more concerned with it working well as a streaming device first and foremost.
As for communication features, Prenner said that they’re still looking into whether something like that would make sense for people when watching TV.