I controlled a Sony OLED Android TV with an Amazon Echo Dot

And it felt like the future. Well, actually, more like the present.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
3 min read
Alexa Sony TV 01
David Katzmaier/CNET

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 Echo at home, can't control all of my devices directly herself. But now that's about to change.

Today third-party developers have started rolling out special Alexa skills that allow Amazon's voice assistant to control them directly, typically via an Echo or Echo Dot smart speaker. Along with Harmony itself, one of the first such developers is Sony. I gave the new skill a whirl this morning in CNET's lab with the superb XBR-65A1E OLED TV, powered by Google's Android TV software. It mostly worked great -- no Harmony required.

Sony Android TVs have a new Alexa skill

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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."

What worked

  • Turn on/off
  • Turn up/down volume (default is increments of 10 percent)
  • Turn up/down volume to #
  • Mute
  • Change to channel # (tunes to antenna channel)
  • Pause/Play (on the TV's Netflix app, for example)
  • Fast-forward/rewind 

What didn't

  • 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 the XBR-65X850D I had on hand to test.

Alexa Sony TV 07
David Katzmaier/CNET

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 own Google Home speaker. 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.