Amazon Links Fire TV Cube Audio, Including Alexa, to Hearing Aids in First for Streaming Media Players
Amazon has upgraded the Fire TV Cube set-top to transmit audio directly to hearing aids, including content played on the device and responses by the built-in Alexa voice assistant. The streaming media player is the first to support Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA), connecting with Starkey Bluetooth hearing aids, with other brands to follow.
The ASHA compatibility essentially turns hearing aids into high-quality wireless earbuds, albeit without a microphone. The setup is in Fire TV’s accessibility menu and can be disconnected there or by holding down the home button on the remote to make the option appear immediately on-screen. The audio that would normally play through a TV or connected stereo speakers instead plays through the hearing aids, although Amazon suggests staying within 10 feet of the TV to maintain audio quality. The hearing aids will play Alexa’s answers to queries made through the remote control as well, just like when the TV is connected to AirPods, Echo Buds, or other hearables. The new feature could attract plenty of new Fire Cube users as almost 29 million adults in the U.S. would benefit from hearing aids, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
“Through research, we’ve learned that improving TV sound quality was one of the most requested features among hearing aid users,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Bluetooth hearing aids connect with Fire TV on a system level, so you can enjoy private audio from your favorite streaming services, apps, and games, as well as Alexa.”
Amazon implementing ASHA compatibility makes sense as a way to boost accessibility, but stands out for approaching the solution from the side of the TV, rather than the hearing aids. There’s been a boom in making hearing aids more like wireless earbuds and augmenting standard hearables with hearing assistance. For instance, Nuheara earned FDA registration for its IQbuds² Pro earbuds last year, while Olive Union has raised millions from VC investors and crowdfunding for smart hearing aids that can perform like AirPods. Google is rumored to be designing its own hearables capable of distinguishing individual voices in a crowd, and code-named Wolverine. The demand correlates with rising bearable ownership in general, Voicebot’s research found a 23% jump in hearables ownership from 2018 through 2020 among U.S. adults. The new feature also serves Amazon’s continued emphasis on turning its smart TVs into smart home hubs centered on Alexa, including the recently redesigned Fire remote and new Fire TVs with far-field microphones so users can awaken Alexa like the TV is an Echo Show smart display.