Alexa Comes To Fire TV

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This is a reprint of a post I originally wrote for the Love My Echo site.

 

On Monday, I fired up the ‘ol Fire TV stick as usual and got this screen (click or tap on images below to view an enlarged version in a new tab or window):

 

Fire TV 1st Generation Alexa Update Welcome Screen

 

Oddly, my second Fire TV stick has yet to get the update.

Given that Alexa is a voice-interaction piece of tech, it should come as no surprise that you can only take advantage of this new Fire TV version of Alexa if you have the Fire TV voice remote, or use the Fire TV mobile app (which has voice command capabilities).

In the Fire TV app, there’s a microphone icon (red arrow in screenshot below). Drag downward on it to turn the mic on, then wait for the confirmation tone to speak your command.

 

Fire TV App

 

On Fire TV there’s no wake word requirement so you can just issue the command itself (e.g., instead of “Alexa, weather report” you can just say “weather report”). Where the Echo version of Alexa would answer your command and send an information “card” to the Alexa app, the Fire TV version answers your command, sends the card to the Alexa app and also displays a special version of the information card on your TV screen, like this:

 

Fire TV 1st Generation Alexa Update - Weather

 

The red arrow in the image above shows an area where Alexa tips and hints scroll while you’re viewing one of these Fire TV Alexa information cards.

Additionally, Fire TV devices are listed on the Settings tab in the Alexa app. There, you can rename your Fire TV devices, and to support Alexa functionality you can change zip code and units of measure settings for them if you like.

 

Smart Home Devices Are Supported
Users of smart home devices will be glad to know Alexa’s smart home control features are included in this update.

Because the Fire TV is an ‘always on’ device, you can use smart home device commands via the Fire TV device without the TV being on, provided you’re using the Fire TV mobile app or are within Bluetooth range for your Fire TV voice remote to communicate with your Fire TV device. However, you won’t hear Alexa’s confirmation message unless your TV is on (or you have a home theater setup that pipes the Fire TV’s audio even when the TV is off).

 

How Is Alexa On Fire TV Different From Alexa In The Echo?
Alexa on Fire TV has most of the same functions as in the Echo device, but there are some important things to bear in mind.

First, and maybe most importantly, Alexa on Fire TV does not interact with your Echo in any way. Fire TV is a totally separate device that just happens to have Alexa functionality built into it now. Similarly, the voice remote for Fire TV cannot control your Echo, and the voice remote for Echo cannot control your Fire TV device or be used to issue commands to Alexa on Fire TV.

Second, for most consumers the new Alexa features will only be accessible while the TV is turned on because otherwise, the TV’s speakers will be off. Unless you have a home theater setup where audio from your Fire TV device is piped through some kind of media server or audio receiver that sends the audio out to separate speakers, you won’t be able to hear Alexa’s responses when your TV is off. Along those same lines, assuming no special home theater / media server setup, you won’t be able to hear any music you’ve requested via Alexa on Fire TV unless the TV’s turned on.

Third, as of this writing (on 2/24/16) Alexa on Fire TV does not support timers or alarms.

Fourth, the Fire TV version of Alexa does not include new features that are not already present for Alexa in the Echo. This means that no, you can’t ask Alexa on Fire TV to find and start a video or app for you, for example.

 


 

Music Playback: Do You Want Lyrics With That?
Finally, it appears that Alexa’s music lookup and playback control functionality on Fire TV works totally separate from the same music functions that were already built into Fire TV. You can ask Alexa on Fire TV to, “Play Lazarus by David Bowie,” and Alexa will confirm your choice and start playing the track through your TV’s speakers (or home theater / media server system, if applicable), but the ability to view lyrics for a given track (where lyrics are available) is strictly a Fire TV music feature at this point.

To use that feature, you’ll have to go through the Fire TV’s own music controls. Search for the track by its title, album, artist or genre name as you normally would have before Alexa on Fire TV became a thing. Use your Fire TV remote to navigate to the onscreen search results for Music, then navigate to the specific result you want and press the Play button on the remote. Going this route, if lyrics are available for the track you’ve selected they will now scroll onscreen in time to the music.

If you’re using spoken commands to search, just remember that including the keyword “Play” or “Shuffle” will tell your Fire TV to wake Alexa up and let her take over. If your intention is to use Fire TV music functionality so you can view the lyrics, be sure to leave those keywords out.

Click here to read Amazon’s Help page about music playback on Fire TV using the Fire TV’s own functionality.

 

Who Is Alexa On Fire TV For?
In my own home, I have an Echo in the same room as each of my two TVs so there’s not much reason for me to ever access Alexa via Fire TV.

This new integration seems like it will best serve households where a given room has a TV but doesn’t have an Echo, and the TV owner wants access to Alexa functions in that room. In that case Alexa brings a lot to the table, but she won’t have the ‘always listening’ convenience of Alexa in the Echo: the Fire TV user will have to pick up a voice remote or use the Fire TV app to interact with Alexa.

Still, Alexa on Fire TV provides a much less expensive alternative to the Echo device.

 

Click here to read Amazon’s full Help page about Alexa functionality on Fire TV.

 

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