One of my favorite things about my TV setup at home is the ability to say "Alexa, turn on the TV" and have the TV fire up, my AV receiver switch to the right input and my TiVo ready for action -- er, vegetation.
To do all that, I use a Harmony universal remote. That's because Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant lurking in my at home, can't control all of my devices directly herself. But now that's about to change.
Today third-partyspecial that allow Amazon's voice assistant to control them directly, typically via an Echo or smart speaker. Along with , one of the first such developers is Sony. I gave the new skill a whirl this morning in CNET's lab with the superb , powered by Google's Android TV software. It mostly worked great -- no Harmony required.
To get up and running I had to install the "TV Control Setup with Amazon Alexa" app on the TV, which stepped me through the hoops as clearly as possible. I had to log in with Google, elect to allow Alexa to turn on the TV (which uses more power), enable Sony's skill, link the accounts in my Alexa app and have Alexa discover devices. I also had to give the TV a name, so I chose "Living Room TV."
After all that it worked, for the most part. Here's what I asked Alexa and how the TV responded. For everything I had to say "Alexa, ___ the Living Room TV," for example: "Alexa, turn on the living room TV."
- Turn on/off
- Turn up/down volume (default is increments of 10 percent)
- Turn up/down volume to #
- Change to channel # (tunes to antenna channel)
- Pause/Play (on the TV's Netflix app, for example)
- Launch Netflix (Alexa responded: "I can't find that skill")
- Launch YouTube ("I'm not quite sure how to help you with that")
- Switch to Input 1 (no response)
- Switch Input to Fire TV ("This device doesn't support that")
- Change channel to CBS ("Living Room TV doesn't support that")
Sony's skill is marked "beta," so I'll forgive the failure of the input-switching commands for now. The app is available on Sony's Android TVs from 2017, like the OLED I tested, and also supposedly on 2016 Sony Android TV sets. As of July 13, however, that skill wasn't available on theI had on hand to test.
Of course a complex home theater system like I have at home -- namely one with an AV receiver, not to mention connected gear like a cable box or game console -- works much better with a Harmony that can control more than just the TV.
It's also interesting, at least to me, that Sony's TVs, powered by Google's Android TV software, actually work better with Amazon Alexa than they do with Google's ownspeaker. That thing can't even turn on the Sony, and while it can control the TV's YouTube app, it can't control other apps like Netflix.
Later this year Sony TVs will get Google Assistant, and at the same time Google Home speaker integration will improve, allowing you to control the TV itself (power on/off, switch inputs, change channels, etc.) and additional apps beyond YouTube with a Google Home. But for now Alexa wins for late-model Sony TV owners who want voice control.
In addition to Sony and Harmony, other partners like LG, Crestron, Denon, Marantz, Polk Audio, and Definitive Technology, have announced support. I'm looking forward to a wonderful future of voice-operated home entertainment. Until then, my present Harmony/Alexa setup is pretty sweet.