The first Fire TV Cube from Amazon was actually three merchandise in a single: a Fire TV streaming machine, an Alexa good speaker, and a common distant for different gadgets hooked as much as your TV. It supplied the identical streaming expertise as Amazon’s different Fire TVs, however the built-in microphones allowed the Cube for use totally hands-free by means of voice instructions. It may additionally management cable packing containers, soundbars, and A/V receivers with the assistance of built-in IR blasters. But the unique Cube lacked Dolby Vision HDR, and ultimately Amazon launched a less expensive Fire TV Stick 4K that did have Dolby Vision for much less cash, leaving the do-everything Cube in a clumsy spot.

So for 2019, Amazon has refreshed the Fire TV Cube to make it the clear flagship of the lineup. It’s received the identical actual design as earlier than, however now has Dolby Vision, a extra highly effective processor, and quicker response instances. Amazon is making an attempt to reduce the Cube’s dependence on the cloud, with a brand new “local voice control” function that processes primary instructions on the machine itself. And the brand new Fire TV Cube can nonetheless management your house theater parts and dim the good lights while you sit down for film evening — all with simply your voice.

The Fire TV Cube seems to be utterly unchanged on the surface. It has the identical controls as an Echo speaker on prime (with a matte texture) with eight tiny microphone holes, and it’s shiny all over the place else. I get that Amazon selected this design for optimum IR sign passthrough, however the factor stays an enormous mud magnet nonetheless.

Around again is an HDMI output, energy, an enter for the included IR extender, and a Micro USB port for the ethernet adapter (additionally within the field) when you want it. You’ll need to use the skinny IR extender wire if a few of your house theater parts are out of sight or tucked into a cupboard. Unfortunately, Amazon nonetheless isn’t together with an HDMI cable with the $120 Fire TV Cube.

Amazon recommends that you just place the Cube at the least one foot away from any speaker. Even with audio blaring from a Sonos Beam, I discovered the mics to be fairly good at choosing up my voice and the “Alexa” hotword at a traditional talking quantity.

Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are new to the second-gen Fire TV Cube; the primary mannequin solely had primary HDR10 help. HDR passthrough labored simply nice on my TCL TV, with the show routinely recognizing when Dolby Vision or HDR10 content material was being performed and making use of the suitable expanded coloration and brightness settings. With all main codecs now supported, you’ve received loads of decisions for streaming 4K between Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu, and different apps. As a Fire TV, this yr’s Cube is objectively superior to the unique.

But it’s nonetheless solely so-so as a common distant. The Fire TV Cube can management most TVs, receivers, and soundbars — plus some cable packing containers You’re requested to decide on your gadgets throughout setup, after which Alexa will know the ins and outs of your gear. Generally, the IR emitter works effectively at getting instructions by means of to your house theater parts and turning every little thing on in sync. But for different {hardware} like recreation consoles or Blu-ray gamers, Alexa can’t do very a lot at all. The Cube will swap to the suitable HDMI enter, however then you definately’re on your personal. That’s all you’ll be able to actually count on from IR blasters, however firms like Caavo try to do extra with on-screen machine studying.

Still, Alexa does really feel extra responsive this time round. Local voice management ends in sure primary voice instructions being executed as much as 4 instances quicker than earlier than, as a result of the Cube handles them instantly and doesn’t want any assist from Amazon’s servers. The awkward pause after a voice command is gone — however solely generally.

Local management works in your frequent capabilities like navigating the UX. You’re actually telling Alexa which technique to scroll or choosing a quantity to open the app or content material that you just need to watch (“Alexa, play number 5”). Apps like Netflix and Hulu have been optimized for hands-free voice management with these on-screen numbers subsequent to alternatives , however that’s not true for a lot of different streaming apps. In these circumstances, you’re nonetheless higher off simply utilizing the bodily Alexa distant. And the Cube will nonetheless must verify with the cloud for rather a lot of instructions, even when the fundamentals are actually significantly speedier.

The Fire TV Cube contains the Alexa Voice Remote for while you don’t really feel like doing every little thing together with your voice.

As for its secondary operate as a sensible speaker, the Fire TV Cube has develop into a greater Alexa speaker due to continued software program updates. It now helps calls, voice messages, and the Drop In function, so it’s principally on equal footing with an Echo. You can even add the Cube to a multi-room music setup with different Alexa gadgets. Remember that the Cube at all times performs music requests by means of your soundbar or TV audio system; the built-in speaker is okay for Alexa’s voice responses however isn’t appropriate for a lot else.

Amazon says the Cube now has a hexa-core processor, and the Fire TV interface has felt snappy in my time utilizing it thus far. But some homeowners of the unique machine discovered that it slowed down over time and exhibited an irritating quantity of lag, and I haven’t had sufficient time to rule out that risk. Amazon is adamant that the Fire TV Cube is now its quickest Fire TV, nevertheless, whereas the Fire TV Stick 4K set the bar earlier than. So it ought to be extra constant and capable of run Kodi, Plex, and different apps with out subject.

The software program expertise largely matches that of different Fire TV gadgets. All the apps you’d need are there, and Amazon has lastly patched up the YouTube gap that existed final yr. YouTube TV is now out there as effectively, although Sony’s PlayStation Vue will get most well-liked therapy amongst streaming TV companies and is built-in instantly into Amazon’s stay information.

My typical nitpicks with Fire TV’s house display screen stay: Amazon can push its originals a bit of too aggressively, and it additionally steers prospects in the direction of Prime Channel subscriptions for HBO, Starz, Epix, and different networks. But while you seek for a style or particular film or present, the platform does an excellent job of exhibiting you all over the place it may be streamed. And seeing visible responses for Alexa queries (like asking for the climate or looking for close by eating places) is a pleasant contact. But these options aren’t distinctive to the Cube; they’re now a part of Fire TV OS as a complete.

I assume the Fire TV Cube makes probably the most sense for people who find themselves simply getting began with Amazon’s ecosystem. If you have already got an Echo Dot in your lounge, the Fire TV Stick 4K makes extra sense. It provides all of the identical Dolby and HDR help and prices simply $50. Plus, the Alexa Voice Remote bundled with that machine can be able to controlling your TV and soundbar. You’ve actually received to need the Cube’s hands-free powers — and its capability to tug double responsibility as an Alexa speaker when the TV display screen is off — for the $120 to be value it.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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