Amazon Fire TV Cube: What It Is and How It Works

This hands-free streaming box uses Alexa to control all of your media equipment

Amazon's Fire TV Cube is a television streaming device that works a lot like a regular Fire TV combined with an Echo Dot. That means it can stream video and music from all your favorite services, but it can also be controlled totally hands-free. It supports 4K video and High Dynamic Range (HDR) and is capable of interfacing with wireless security cameras, and it can even control devices like televisions and soundbars through voice commands.

What Is the Fire TV Cube?

The easiest way to understand what a Fire TV Cube is, and what it has to offer, is to imagine a 4K Fire TV, an Echo Dot, and an infrared (IR) blaster all combined into one package. What this adds up to is a television streaming device that responds to voice commands and also allows you to control a wide variety of other devices with voice commands.

Since all of this functionality is combined into a single device, it's a lot easier to set up and use a Fire TV Cube than it is to get a 4K Fire TV, Echo Dot, and IR blaster working together. This is especially true when it comes to the IR blaster, since these devices tend to be expensive, difficult to set up, and sometimes require a separate hub to use with Alexa.

Here's everything that's Included in the Fire TV Cube box:

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • Power adapter
  • Alexa voice remote
  • Batteries for the remote
  • Micro USB Ethernet adapter
  • IR extender cable

The inclusion of an Ethernet adapter is a nice touch since it allows you to stream over a hard-wired connection if your Wi-Fi is spotty. This is especially important if you're streaming 4K video, which takes up a lot of bandwidth.

The IR extension cable is also great to have on hand if some of your devices are located inside of a hutch or media center. This essentially extends the reach of the built-in IR blaster wherever you need it.

The one thing Amazon left out is an HDMI cable, so if you don't have an extra one on hand, you'll need to buy a new one before you can use the Fire TV Cube.

How Is the Cube Different From the Amazon Fire Stick and the Fire TV Box?

Amazon has released a lot of different devices under the Fire TV name, and they all do basically the same thing: stream media to your television. The Fire TV Cube does more than any of the others, but it's still basically just a Fire TV Box and an Echo Dot repackaged into a sharp-edged form factor.

Fire tv 4k, stick, voice remote, and fire tv cube

The biggest difference between the Fire TV Cube and all of the other Fire TV devices is that the Cube basically has Echo hardware built right into it. The built-in speaker is extremely anemic compared to a full-sized Echo, but it's pretty much in line with the Dot, and it only sees use when your TV isn't on.

The other huge difference is that the Cube has a built-in IR blaster, which none of the other Fire TV devices have. This allows the Cube to control cable boxes, Blu-ray players, soundbars, and most other devices that work with an IR remote.

In terms of hardware and streaming capabilities, the Cube is more powerful than the Fire TV Stick, but it actually has the same processor inside as the older Fire TV Box. That means that a 4K Fire TV and an Echo Dot, working together, can provide a similar experience to the Fire TV Cube, just without the Fire TV Cube's built-in IR Blaster.

How Do the Different Fire TV Devices Stack up Against Each Other?

All of the different Fire TV devices serve the same basic purpose, and you can use all of them to watch video content from Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and other sources. They aren't built on the same hardware though, so they do have slightly different capabilities.

What it all boils down to is that the Fire TV 4K and Fire TV Cube are a little faster than the Fire TV Stick, so you may notice that navigating the menus on the more expensive devices feels a bit snappier.

The Fire TV Stick is also incapable of handling 4K video, doesn't support HDR, and isn't compatible with Dolby Atmos. So if you have a 4K TV and a high-end sound system, the basic Fire TV Stick won't take full advantage of your home theater setup.

If you crave a more in-depth look under the hood, here are detailed specs for each Fire TV device:

Fire TV Stick

  • Resolution: 720p, 1080p
  • Voice control: Requires Alexa Voice Remote
  • HDR support: No
  • Storage: 8 GB
  • Ethernet: Requires optional adapter
  • Audio: Dolby
  • Processor speed: 1.3 G

Fire TV 4K

  • Resolution: 720p, 1080p, 2160p (4K)
  • Voice control: Requires Alexa Voice Remote
  • HDR support: Yes
  • Storage: 8 GB
  • Ethernet: Requires optional adapter
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos
  • Processor speed: 1.5 GHz

Fire TV Cube

  • Resolution: 720p, 1080p, 2160p (4K)
  • Voice control: Yes
  • HDR support: Yes
  • Storage: 16 GB
  • Ethernet: Adapter included
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos
  • Processor speed: 1.5 GHz

What Can the Fire TV Cube Do?

Since the Fire TV Cube is basically a Fire TV Box and an Echo Dot combined, it can do everything that a Fire TV can do, everything that an Echo Dot can do, and also control additional devices by means of its IR blaster.

With all of these capabilities, the Fire TV Cube is positioned to form the core of your home theater setup by giving you hands-free control over everything from your television, to your cable box, A/V receiver, Blu-Ray player, and anything else that would normally require a separate remote control.

Since the Fire TV Cube has the functionality of an Echo, it can also control smart home devices like light bulbs, switches, outlets, and thermostats.

At its heart, the Fire TV Cube is still a streaming device. It includes all of the same streaming functionality seen in the other Fire TV products, so you can use it to watch TV shows and movies on services like Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and even YouTube if you install one of the optional web browsers.

The Fire TV Cube is compatible with television streaming services like Sling TV, so cord-cutters can use it to stream live television. And if you haven't yet cut the cord, you can teach it how to control your cable box so you can say, "Alexa, turn on ESPN," and watch as it powers up your cable box, switches to the correct input, and changes the channel.

If you have a compatible wireless security camera, the Fire TV Cube can also connect to that and display a feed right on your television.

How to Use the Fire TV Cube's IR Blaster

Aside from having Alexa built right in, the inclusion of an IR blaster is the biggest difference between the Fire TV Cube and competitors like Apple TV and Chromecast. The Fire TV Cube can control some televisions directly through the HDMI connection, but for everything else, it relies on the same exact IR technology used by most remote controls.

The Fire TV Cube uses hidden infrared LEDs to control devices like sound bars.

When you look at a Fire TV cube, you can't see the IR blaster. The mirror-black surface of the cube hides multiple LEDs, which are the same type of LEDs that are found in remote controls. When you ask the Cube to turn on a device like your soundbar, you can see the LEDs flash through the lens of a camera, but not with the naked eye.

Using the Cube's IR blaster is extremely easy, and it can learn to control a lot of devices through a mostly automated process. If you've ever set up a universal remote, and gone through the tedious process of entering dozens of different codes to program it, that isn't how the Cube's IR blaster works.

To set up the Fire TV Cube's IR blaster to control a device, like a soundbar, here are the basic steps:

  1. Turn on your Fire TV Cube.
  2. Navigate to Settings > Equipment Control > Manage Equipment > Add Equipment.
  3. Select the type of device you want to add.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions.

You will need your Fire TV Cube remote and the remote for your device to complete the process.

Limitations of the Fire TV Cube: Don't Lose Your Remote

The Fire TV Cube is a great device if you don't already have a 4K streaming device, or you want to be able to control all of your devices with your voice. However, the voice controls do have some limitations.

While you can use your voice to control the Cube itself, and you can even use voice controls in apps like Netflix to search, play, rewind, and pause content, the voice controls still aren't quite as robust as the regular interface that you can navigate with the included remote control.

In some cases, you will need to pick up the remote to click your way through menus. For instance, you can launch Netflix with a voice command, but there doesn't seem to be a way to select a profile if your account has multiple profiles set up. Other menus and on-screen prompts also require the remote, but most of these issues could be fixed with firmware updates to improve Alexa integration.

The remote is also required to set up new equipment, so if you lose it in the couch cushions, you'll end up needing to buy a replacement sooner rather than later.

Volume control is another limitation that could probably be fixed with a firmware update. With the Echo, you can tell Alexa to set a specific volume level, in addition to simply requesting a higher or lower volume. The Fire TV Cube can only adjust the volume up or down in set increments, so if you want to go from a low volume to a high volume, you need to give the command multiple times.

The physical controller is identical to the Alexa voice controllers that come with other Fire TV devices, and it still doesn't have volume buttons at all.

How to Tell If Your Equipment Will Work With the Fire TV Cube

The Fire TV Cube works with most televisions, soundbars, and other equipment that is designed to use an infrared remote control. There are exceptions, so Amazon has a compatibility site that you can check out to make sure the Cube will fit right in with your current setup.

The biggest issue is that the Fire TV Cube is set up to control devices via its IR blaster. So if you have a television or soundbar with a Bluetooth remote, like many products from Bang and Olufsen, then the Fire TV Cube won't be able to control them.

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