Amazon Updates Alexa on the Fire TV

If you've lamented that the Alexa voice assistant on the Amazon Fire TV in your living room just didn't seem as smart as the one on the Amazon Echo Bluetooth speaker in your kitchen, you were right. But no longer.

Thanks to a recent update, Fire TV's Alexa is now on par with the Echo's, so it can control smart devices, play music and audiobooks, and provide news, weather, traffic, and sports updates. You can also re-order items you've purchased through Amazon Prime.

Perhaps the biggest news is the Amazon Fire TV's growing ability to act as the control interface in the company's vision of the smart home, since many Fire TVs will be located in living rooms and family rooms, while the Echo is often relegated to the kitchen. That means that, just like the Echo, your Fire TV can now control Philips Hue and GE Link lights, Insteon dimmers and hubs, Wink products such as thermostats, and Samsung SmartThings devices, using voice commands.

In addition, both devices support IFTTT—"If This, Then That"—an Internet-based third-party service that automates how your apps, web services, and devices interact with each other, using a set of rules or conditions called "recipes." Basically with IFTTT, one action can automatically trigger another one. So, for example, "liking" an Instagram photo will cause it to be automatically saved to your gallery, or asking Alexa to find your phone will trigger it to start ringing.

Just be aware that for now Alexa is only available on Amazon Fire TV devices running Fire OS software version 5 or higher, and Fire TV Stick devices running Fire OS 5.0.3 or higher. So if you own one of these devices, make sure the firmware has the latest update.

If you're in the market for a new streaming media player, we recently tested four of the newest models, including the new Apple TV, Fire TV, the revamped Chromecast, and Roku 4. And if you'd like more information on IFTT, visit Amazon's Echo help website.

Copyright © 2005-2015 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.