While competitors have offered Alexa voice assistants with their own proprietary microphones, Polk has announced the first sound bar at CES 2018 with what is essentially an Echo Dot built into it: the Command Bar.
The Command Bar integrates Amazon's own far-field microphones and controls into the speaker and you can use either to control your smart home as a fully-fledged Echo replacement. The onboard mics can also control audio functions such as volume, mute, EQ, and source selection.
To further integrate itself into the Amazon ecosystem the Command Bar incorporates a dedicated HDMI port designed to fit the Amazon Fire TV Stick as well as similar devices such as the Roku Express.The sound bar includes a USB port on the rear to power these streaming dongles.
Polk says users can "easily ask the Command Bar to share the time, weather, set alarms, tell jokes, or turn on the lights from anywhere in the home theater regardless of volume". Given our experience with Alexa's difficulty hearing at high levels we're dubious of this claim. This could be why Polk has included an "Alexa Action button" on the remote which activates the voice assistant and lowers the playback volume simultaneously.
- Dual 3-inch full-range drivers, two 1-inch tweeters and a ported, wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer
- Connectivity includes WiFi, Bluetooth, two built-In 4K HDMI 2.0b inputs (Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDCP 2.2 compliant), one HDMI (ARC) output and optical input for TV audio.
- Polk's proprietary dialogue-enhancing technology, VoiceAdjust, plus adjustable EQ settings including Movies, Music and Sports
- Built-in keyholes for optional wall-mounting
Given that other brands are moving to a more universal approach to voice assistants -- for example the Sonos One will let you choose between Google and Alexa -- it will be interesting to see if customers will commit to a sound bar locked-down to Amazon's Alexa .
The Command Bar will be available for $299.95 in Spring 2018. It will be released in Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia later in 2018 with pricing to be announced.