Amazon announced its newest member of the Echo smart speaker line on June 7, the Fire TV Cube. Combining Echo smart speaker functionality, a new 8-mic far-field voice recognition array and the features of the company's Fire TV streaming video devices, the $119 Fire TV Cube will be available June 21. The device ships with an infrared (IR) blaster cable and USB OTG Ethernet adapter, and it supports 60 FPS 4K video, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos.
Similar to the current Fire TV dongle, the Fire TV Cube is powered by an Amlogic S905Z quad-core processor running at 1.5 GHz, with 2GB of random access memory (RAM). Connectivity is provided via Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with 2×2 multiple input multiple output (MIMO).
The Fire TV Cube is designed to interact with consumers' existing soundbars and pay-TV set-top boxes (STBs). The device uses a combination of high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) consumer electronics control (CEC), IR blaster-emitted remote commands and cloud-based intelligence to translate voice commands into the requisite combinations of turning on a TV, changing an input, turning on a pay-TV STB and/or soundbar, and issuing the correct channel number, to bring consumers to their desired channel or content choice.
The device also features a new content-first interface that’s unique to the Fire TV Cube, designed to simplify menu navigation and selection for voice-based control. Not unlike similar attempts from other companies, the new interface uses a simplified system of rows and large tiles, with numbers utilized to shorten/speed up voice-based selection. In terms of video functionality, the device offers the capability of Fire TV devices, enabling content to be displayed in the same manner as the Echo Show display-equipped smart speaker.
For those consumers already committed to buying a Fire TV device, the Fire TV Cube offers distinct differentiation from the rapidly commoditizing retail streaming video device market. For those interested in both an Echo smart speaker and a Fire TV device, Amazon's new product offers a seemingly ideal solution. Although more combination devices are expected from other manufacturers before the end of the year, the Fire TV Cube is the first combination device to ship in the retail streaming/over-the-top (OTT) video category, and it is a shot across the bow of Roku, Apple, Google and others in the market.
Past attempts with game consoles, smart TVs and other devices have shown that consumers will not necessarily use voice within the TV experience beyond an initial novelty period, unless it fundamentally improves the user experience in tangible dimensions such as speed, simplicity, ease of use or time-to-content. In most circumstances, voice loses out to the traditional remote after the novelty period in efficiency, except in time-to-content, thanks to voice-based search. Consumers have traditionally fallen back on the remote as a fundamentally faster and more efficient method of executing certain basic functions such as channel control or directional menu navigation.
Although there is substantial reactive fervor over the Fire TV Cube and similar devices as the first indicators of how voice will completely eliminate the remote control from the TV consumption experience, this enthusiasm is likely premature. Past behavior indicates that consumers will ultimately decide the easiest and most efficient method of controlling the TV experience, and, depending on the situation, it will likely entail some combination of both voice and direct remote control.
That notwithstanding, the Fire TV Cube does provide substantial advancements in the elimination of some of the traditional friction that exists between voice interfaces and the TV experience. It accomplishes this by way of an innovative combination of cloud-based digital assistance, software intelligence and the bridging of last-mile device connectivity over IR and HDMI CEC.
Along with the Sonos Beam, Polk Command Bar, JBL Link Bar and a variety of other TV-connected combinations of smart speakers with soundbars and/or STBs that are expected to arrive this year and in early 2019 on the consumer and service provider fronts, the Fire TV Cube is a reinforcement of the overall trend of voice becoming a unifying interface for not only smart home control, but all modalities of media consumption.