Amazon launched its new Fire TV Cube this morning - logically combining an Echo device with a Fire TV. But the Fire TV Cube has higher ambitions: to be an entertainment hub, controlling compatible TVs, sounds bars, A/V receivers and even cable or satellite set-top boxes, to deliver 4K TV. The set-top box integrations mean that Amazon is positioning the Fire TV Cube as a surprising friend to pay-TV, rather than a disruptor, the company’s typical role.
Amazon said that the Fire TV Cube is compatible with set-top boxes from Comcast, Dish and DirecTV, Spectrum, Verizon, Cox, Alice and Frontier, covering more than 90% of households with a cable or satellite subscription. The feat is accomplished through the use of IR blasters in the Fire TV Cube that can switch the input to the set-top box and then turn it on/off and change channels. I haven’t tried the Fire TV Cube yet so I don’t know how well any of this works, but my prior experiences with IR have shown it can be finicky.
Note that other set-top functions like accessing DVR recordings or on-demand content are outside of Fire TV Cube’s reach at launch. The device’s remote control also doesn’t include volume buttons (this is Alexa’s voice world after all), meaning owners will either adjust to using voice control or still reach for their set-top or TV remote. And the Fire TV Cube doesn’t control game consoles or Blu-ray players at launch either. Add it all up and Fire TV Cube owners will still be using some combination of existing remotes.
But Amazon’s limited embrace of the set-top box is an acknowledgement that conventional pay-TV still matters when a device has aspirations to control a consumer’s entertainment center. In fact, Alexa has been available with Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, providing many of the core functions of the Fire TV Cube to cord-cutters and cord-nevers.
So with around 90 million+ U.S. households still subscribing to pay-TV (which is far more than those who don’t), Amazon was left with little choice than to play nice with set-top boxes if it wanted Fire TV Cube to be seen as a bona fide option new TV controller option.
Because it controls the set-top box, the Fire TV Cube addresses one of the most persistent, albeit pedestrian problems, of the OTT age: the annoying requirement to manually switch inputs between the pay-TV set-top box and connected TV device (e.g. Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, etc.). This problem has been neatly solved by skinny bundles / vMVPDs delivering linear TV as an app, without a dedicated set-top. Eliminating the input switching process will be an immediate convenience for many Fire TV Cube users.
Fire TV Cube is Amazon’s latest attempt to dominate the living room and connected home markets. No doubt more moves are yet to come.
The Fire TV Cube is $120 and available for pre-order today ($90 for Prime members).