You can now tell your Amazon Echo device to pause, play, fast forward, rewind, or launch content on Amazon Fire TV. Up next: Smart home camera feeds on your TV.
For about a year, the only thing Alexa's had to offer when it comes to controlling your TV using voice commands is an integration with the Logitech Harmony smart remote. That gave the Google Home smart speaker a big advantage since it works directly with Chromecast to launch content on Netflix and YouTube.
Alexa's been busy playing catch-up, though. Her newest trick -- controlling content on Amazon Fire TV streaming devices -- went live today. With it, Echo device owners can ask Alexa to launch a movie or show, and they can ask her to pause, fast-forward or rewind the action, too. You can also open streaming apps such as Hulu with a voice command. Or you can ask Alexa to search within a genre by saying something like, "Alexa, show me kung fu movies."
You could already do all of that by holding a button and giving a voice command to the Fire TV voice remote. But with the new native controls (and an Echo device in your living room) you don't even need to do that.
That's still a bit more limited than Element's new Alexa-equipped TVs, which have the virtual voice assistant and Fire TV streaming capabilities built right in. With those, you can also ask Alexa to adjust the volume of your TV, or change HDMI inputs. None of that works if you're just using a regular Fire TV streamer and an external Alexa device like the Echo or Echo Dot. Amazon also tells us that far-field voice control of those TV sets that doesn't require users to press a mic button on the remote is coming to customers in the US in the coming week.
Still, the new controls undoubtedly help Amazon close the video gap with Google. In fact, Alexa's arguably ahead, since she can work with apps beyond just Netflix and YouTube.
In addition, Fire TV and second-gen Fire TV Stick users will soon be able to ask Alexa to show the feed from a compatible smart home camera on their TV, just like you can ask her to pull those feeds up on the touchscreen-equipped Amazon Echo Show. A number of cameras will support the feature, including options from Ring, Arlo, Nest, EZVIZ, Vivint Smart Home, Amcrest, Logitech, and August.
The Fire TV integration joins Amazon's other efforts to realize Alexa's couch potato potential. In addition to Alexa-equipped TVs and the Echo Show, and with it, a new set of software tools to help media services put the assistant to work. Dish is one big name that's already taken advantage of those tools by making an Alexa skill that lets her control content on the company's Hopper devices. Other names are sure to follow suit.
The new media controls are set to launch today on all generations of Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick. To get started, just give Alexa a command that involves Fire TV, like "Alexa, play Transparent on Fire TV." From there, the assistant will automatically pair with your streamer. If you have more than one Fire TV device, Amazon advises users to follow pairing instructions in the Alexa app.