Like a morphing Marvel superhero or a wartime chief executive, Alexa—Amazon's digital assistant—is getting some new powers, specifically voice commands that will launch apps or streaming services on the company's Fire TV streaming media devices.
When we checked out the latest Amazon Fire TV models last fall, we were a bit disappointed to learn that Alexa's prowess wasn't quite as expansive as it was on the Echo speaker. But Alexa's capabilities have steadily improved, on both the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick.
And, when these latest Fire TV software updates, which will be pushed out automatically in the next few weeks, arrive, Alexa's vocabulary will get a further boost. Once they do, you'll be able to use voice commands to:
• Launch apps
• Play movies and TV shows from Amazon and other streaming services
• Find local movie and showtimes
• Search for local businesses and restaurants
• Access and listen to text-to-speech-enabled e-books from your Kindle library through Amazon Fire TV
Amazon says that Alexa's voice search capability on the Fire TV devices has also been expanded, and now covers nearly 60 streaming services, including Amazon Video and Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Showtime, Starz, and HBO Go. Netflix, however, was notably absent from the provided list.
As in the past, you can use Alexa's voice commands to play songs from Prime Music and a few other streaming services, and to get weather reports, sports scores, and news updates.
To use Alexa's voice capabilities, you'll need the voice-enabled remote that comes with the $100 Fire TV set-top box, the remote in the $50 Fire TV Stick package, or the free Android and iOS apps that let you turn your smart phone into a remote.
The software update also adds support for the VP9 video format used by YouTube for 4K videos. The second-gen Fire TV set-top box already streams 4K video from Amazon, Netflix, and other services.
Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.