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Smart Home

Logitech Harmony's Alexa skill just got a whole lot better

You no longer need to tack "ask Harmony" onto your Alexa command to play a show, adjust the volume or run a preprogrammed TV activity.

Logitech Harmony's universal remotes already offer customizable control over your TV, media players and smart home devices, and the system's hub syncs with Amazon Alexa to let you control everything using just your voice. Now, that Alexa integration is getting a key upgrade that should make those voice commands a lot easier and more natural to deliver.

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Alexa voice controls for Logitech's Harmony Hub and remotes don't require any extra words any longer.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Before now, you had to add the words "ask Harmony" onto your command to trigger the skill into doing things Alexa couldn't natively do on her own. The voice-controlled digital assistant knows how to turn devices on and off, which lets her turn your preset Logitech activities on and off just fine. But if you wanted her to fast forward through a program or turn the TV volume up and down, you'd need to say, "Alexa, ask Harmony to fast forward," or "ask Harmony to turn the volume down."

Not anymore, though. Now, you can just say, "Alexa, fast forward," or whatever other Harmony command you might want. None of them require the extra verbiage.

What's also interesting about Logitech's new and improved voice controls is that they're apparently able to distinguish between video playback and audio playback. As Logitech tells me, Alexa is now trained to assume that you're talking about your TV for a period of time after you give her a TV-specific launch command ("Alexa, turn on the TV," or "Alexa, turn on Roku," for instance). Tell her to turn the volume up during that period, and Alexa will know to turn up your TV volume instead of the volume on the Echo itself. I'm curious to see how well that works in practice, and I plan on testing it out for myself in the coming days.

One caveat, though -- there are still two different Harmony skills in the Alexa app. You'll want to be sure you've enabled the one that's listed as "Optimized for Smart Home."

At any rate, all of that's a big step in the right direction, and one that comes right after the arrival of the first TV sets with Amazon Fire TV and Alexa voice controls built right in. On top of that, you can also now control existing Fire TV setups using voice commands on external Alexa gadgets like the Echo, the Echo Dot and the Dash Wand (previously, Fire TV voice commands would only work via the included voice remote, which requires a button press to activate Alexa). Couple all of that with the recent debut of the video-enabled Amazon Echo Show, and it's clear that smarter entertainment controls are a top priority for Amazon's Alexa team.

Amazon declined to comment on their plans for this story.

Logitech's improved Harmony skill is live now in the US, and requires no update on any of your devices provided you've already got the skill enabled. If you're giving it a try, be sure to let us know how it's working for you in the comments below.