Amazon has announced its second-generation Fire TV Cube at an event during IFA 2019 in Berlin where it also talked about new TVs featuring the Fire TV interface coming to the UK and Europe for the first time.
The original Fire TV Cube was launched in the US in the middle of last year but never made it to Europe - however, Amazon has decided things will be different with the second-generation device which it says is the "most powerful Fire TV ever" - it's not wrong, and it's largely because of the extra powers it has given to Alexa.
The Fire TV Cube essentially brings total hands-free control to your TV - you can use Alexa to perform basic functions with your TV and soundbar that you would have otherwise had to use the remote for.
And, of course, it offers the full Fire TV experience, too, as well as support for 4K HDR, specifically HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. It's also Dolby Atmos compliant if you're lucky enough to have the right sound gear.
Note that the Fire TV Cube isn't capable of some aspects of the Echo device - Bluetooth connections to mobile phones and Spotify support for multi-room is not currently supported.
Alexa is embedded on the device. The advantage of this is that many common commands can be dealt with on the device itself, rather than having to flip everything to Alexa in the cloud.
And, of course, because it uses far-field mics (which Amazon says can hear over and above loud content), you don't need to use the Alexa remote to issue commands. Understandably, this should lead to more natural interactions with your TV, after all, we find ourselves talking a lot more naturally to the Echo Plus in our kitchen than we do to the Alexa Voice Remote on our TV.
As you can see here, the Cube has several of the standard Echo device characteristics including the traditional four-button array on top for volume, mic mute and action plus an Alexa light strip so you can see when it is listening.
On the rear you have micro USB and HDMI connections in addition to the IR blaster connector and power.
The Cube has HDMI-CEC and an IR blaster so you can control other devices using your voice, such as a set-top box or soundbar. Obviously this requires more setup, and we're looking forward to testing out how this will work in practice when we get one. Some set-top box providers - such as Sky - have already partnered with Amazon so you can change channels using voice (it'll be better than Sky's own voice experience, that's for sure).
And, of course, you can also integrate with other Alexa stuff you've already got set up - so you can command routines, such as dimming your lights when you're ready to watch TV. And Amazon is making the Cube available as part of a bundle deal with the Ring Video Doorbell 2, too, since it's a natural fit. Just as on the Echo Show, you can see Ring camera on your TV (above) of course.
If there is a negative of the Fire TV Cube it's in the inconsistent approach of apps. Netflix, Prime Video (of course) and YouTube have total Alexa integration, but other apps don't and that's one of our frustrations with Fire TV across the board. That said, there's nobody doing better with integrating so many TV/video apps onto its family of devices.
The new Fire TV Cube isn't a huge leap over the old version, but it's great that it'll be moving beyond US shores. It is a difficult device to explain - and will be difficult for some consumers to get their head around - but being able to control most of your TV devices and sound gear with Alexa is appealing, as is the fact you don't have to pick up the remote to do it.
The endgame is that Amazon wants to put Alexa into TVs with Fire TV natively, so it could well be that the Cube is replaced by other solutions in the medium to long term.
However, for now, the Cube is here - and no doubt Amazon will discount it numerous times and sell bucketloads.