Amazon Fire TV Cube (mostly) rules the living room
Amazon debuted a "surprise" product this month, the Fire TV Cube. It's certainly not a stretch of the imagination to combine an Echo with a streaming device, but Amazon took it a step further by including A/V control, too.
I have to admit, when I read the announcement about this product, I wanted it immediately. And that is honestly pretty rare for me these days. But before I get ahead of myself, let me describe this new gadget for you:
It's a cube, mostly. A shiny, black dust magnet that has the same buttons on the top as a recent Amazon Echo. A linear, eight-microphone array has also graces the top of the unit, designed to listen for sounds generally in front of the Cube. A linear light bar sits at the front, and sometimes pretends like it's Kitt from Night Rider. While there's a downward-firing speaker, it is generally only used when audio is not being routed to your TV or speakers, and has 'ok' sound quality for voice responses. On the back, it has an HDMI output, and comes with a micro-USB to Ethernet adapter if you'd like to have a physical network connection. Oh, and it has a 4K Fire TV streaming device onboard, with slightly better specs than the existing 4K Fire TV.
But here's the kicker, there are hidden infrared blasters on the sides and front of the Fire TV Cube, along with an IR port on the back where you can plug in the included IR blaster extension. That's right, Amazon's Fire TV Cube can control TV's over HDMI, and via IR, older TVs along with sound bars, AV receivers and some cable / satellite boxes.
The integrated IR was the key selling point for me, and makes the Cube a competitor to the Logitech's Harmony line of universal remotes. My TV is from 2011 (I know, I know...such a dinosaur) and can't be easily controlled over HDMI like more modern TVs. The Fire TV Cube automatically identified my TV over its HDMI connection, and then tried out several functions over HDMI and IR automatically. It was a nearly hands-off setup process, and once it was done my TV had seemingly learned new tricks!
While the Fire TV Cube might not be as flexible as the Logitech Harmony Hub for smart home integration and automation, it does give you single-command automations that you don't have to build yourself. "Alexa, play How I Met Your Mother on Hulu" automatically turns on your TV, sets the input to the Cube, launches Hulu and magically starts playing your requested title. That isn't possible with Harmony because it cannot get down to title-level requests on connected DVRs and players like Roku.
I do wish that the Fire TV Cube could link up to Alexa's Routines, so that it could prompt me and ask "Hey, do you want me to activate 'Movie Time'" when I ask the Cube to play some sort of video title. I'm sure Amazon is right on that.
There are some quirks and little things with the Cube that I don't love, but overall I have been pleased with the experience. It's also given me a new reason to have an Alexa device to play with, as most of my time is spent talking to Google. For serious home automation enthusiasts, you'll want the ability to control this thing from other smart home systems and devices...and at least for now, that's sadly off the table.
But for $119, the Fire TV Cube is a pretty low-priced gadget when you combine all of the hardware and capabilities of the device. And with the promise of updates to make the device even better, it's a good investment. For my full commentary and product demos, watch my video review embedded above.