Amazon's Fire TV Cube is now available to Canadian shoppers. We've had a first look at the new streaming device.
The Fire TV cube, as the name suggests, departs from the previous Fire TV Stick form factor. The tiny Stick devices are intended to mount invisibly on an HDMI port behind the TV. The Fire TV Cube is not huge, about 8cm on a side, but does need to have a space of its own near the TV.
Compared to the previous Fire TV models, the Fire TV Cube adds a built-in speaker, as well as "far-field" Alexa voice control of entertainment devices, using 8 microphones built into the cube itself. Previous models used an Alexa Voice Remote, which the Fire TV Cube includes as well.
Video support is similar to the existing Fire TV Stick 4K, offering up to 4K Ultra HD output, with support for multiple HDR modes, including HDR 10, Dolby Vision, HLG and HDR10+. Like the Fire TV Stick 4K, the Fire TV Cube also has support for Dolby Atmos (omitted from the lower-cost Fire TV Stick).
Like its predecessors, the Fire TV Cube supports 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi connectivity. A USB adapter allows wired Ethernet connectivity - a $20 option for the previous Stick models, but included with the Fire TV Cube.
The Fire TV Cube advances processing power. While the previous Fire TV Stick models had quad-core processors with 8GB of storage, the Fire TV Cube moves to a hexa-core processor with 16GB of storage.
Amazon gave an impressive demonstration of the voice capabilities of Alexa in the Fire TV Cube. Users can easily navigate the big tile-based menus of content, scrolling, selecting and searching for specific shows.
In its demo, Amazon showed a wide variety of sophisticated commands that users will be able to use. For example, they can "Play Songs by Sam Smith," or "Shuffle Songs by Sam Smith. Or "Show dramas" to see a range of video options.
Amazon noted that the Fire TV Cube now includes local processing of a few common commands. Things like "Alexa, Play" or "Alexa, Pause" should be executed up to four times faster than previously.
A few special commands are handled uniquely. "What's the weather?" for example, will show the weather and allow the user to go back immediately to content that was playing. With the Cube shut down, "What's the weather?" will produce a spoken weather update, without turning on the AV system. Asking Alexa to "Show me movies nearby" provides a listing of nearby cinema showtimes, along with movie details and IMDb ratings.
As you'd expect, the Fire TV cube supports all the major content services, including Amazon's own Prime Video, as well as Netflix, YouTube, Canadian providers such as Global and CBC, and specialty services like Crunchyroll.
Some third-party streaming apps are likely to have better Alexa integration than others. Also, getting Alexa to control more than just its own input to the TV will require some setup. Amazon has provided an IR ‘blaster' to control external devices, as well as support for HDMI CEC. The company states that its cloud-based AI will intelligently choose the best method for each device.
Home-control options might include commands like "Good Night," to shut off all the AV gear as well as the room lights. Naturally, this will take more setup.
Amazon did mention that the included remote is still needed for access to the Fire TV Cube settings, noting that customers generally don't expect these technical details to be voice-controlled.
One surprise emerged during the demo, which should have been obvious, in hindsight: you can't freely discuss Alexa in front of Alexa. An obvious question such as "How do you tell Alexa to turn off the lights?" is likely to actually turn off the lights. Other sentences including the word "Alexa" may produce even less predictable results.
Obviously, the etiquette of voice control is still evolving.
With this new launch, Amazon's line up of streaming devices includes the Fire TV Stick ($49.99 CDN), the Fire TV Stick 4K ($69.99 CDN) and the Fire TV Cube ($149.99 CDN).
[You can find our coverage of Amazon's original announcement of the Fire TV Cube here.]