Amazon Fire TV Performs Like an Echo Show Smart Display With New Hands-Free Controls
Amazon has updated its Fire smart TVs with new hands-free controls, transforming them into ersatz Echo Show smart displays. The new system gives Alexa-powered devices connected to the Fire TV the ability to do essentially everything it does on a smart display, going well beyond previous limitations for hands-free commands.
Voice control of Fire TVs through Alexa has been possible for years via the voice remotes sold by Amazon and some third-party manufacturers. The same goes for operating the TV via an Echo smart speaker or other Alexa-powered devices. Until now, those commands have been restricted to opening streaming services, searching and playing videos, and controlling volume and other playback systems. Now, the Fire TV can operate like an Echo Show smart display when connected to an Alexa device with the right microphones or the Fire TV Cube and its far-field microphones. The only exceptions are the Echo Show and Echo Spot. Users can access their personalized, local information, displaying their calendar and local weather, for instance. The TV will also serve as a visual hub for smart home devices, streaming live video feeds from connected cameras.
To better manage all of the new elements by voice, Alexa has learned new navigation commands. You can ask the voice assistant to “scroll” in different directions or “go back” to previous screens. The entertainment functions of the television have been given some new tricks as well, with music-specific controls to stream audio from a smart speaker through the TV’s speakers. All told, the Fire TV may as well be an oversized Echo Show, lacking only a touch screen and the ability to swivel around to follow the user like the Echo Show 10 smart display unveiled at Amazon’s recent new device event.
The new features continue Amazon’s efforts to centralize smart home control through Alexa. The change deepens the integration of Fire smart TVs with the rest of the Alexa ecosystem in a way that Amazon likely hopes will encourage people to stick to Alexa-enabled devices when considering what else to buy. As for the smart TV space, remote controls may eventually be entirely superfluous or only relevant as an app on a smartphone. Notably, Logitech ended support for its voice-focused Harmony Expres remote control after only a year. The very basic set of buttons supporting what was basically a microphone connected to Alexa. And Amazon’s interest in hands-free control goes beyond televisions. The Amazon Dash Wand stopped working in July, three years after the Alexa-enabled product scanner came out, as did the Echo Look, designed by Amazon to go into people’s closets and help them shop. Amazon is betting on Echo smart speakers’ broader capabilities and smart displays, including televisions, to do everything. And there may be plenty more voice apps with visuals coming Amazon works to build its catalog of Alexa skills that might look good on smart TVs. The company began a contest for exactly that purpose this month, offering $97,000 in prizes for the Alexa Skills Challenge: Beyond Voice.