Amazon’s Alexa assistant can now open apps, find restaurants on Fire TV devices

amazons alexa can now launch apps play movies and find restaurants on fire tv amazon streaming box
Amazon’s Fire TV has a lot going for it: it has a library that’s 4,000 channels, apps, and games strong and growing; it supports 4K Ultra HD playback on compatible models; and it’s got speedy hardware that responds like a dream. But if there’s one area where the Fire TV is relatively weak compared to the set-top competition, it’s in voice search. Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, which the retailer brought to Fire TV in February, can serve up the weather report, give sports score digests, and control your smart home appliances, but it can’t launch apps or play videos. Soon, though, that’s changing.

Over the “coming weeks,” Amazon is beaming an over-the-air update to all Fire TV models that will see Alexa learn a few new tricks. You’ll be able to launch apps with your voice, for one — saying “Open Showtime” or “Launch FX Now” will summon those respective apps to the fore — and content within apps themselves will become a lot easier to manipulate. Instead of having to dictate the name of a TV show or movie, wait for a search to complete, and then select the appropriate title from a long list of results, for example, you’ll be able to verbalize commands — “Play Game of Thrones,” or “Watch The Americans,” for example — and configure the Fire TV to respond appropriately.

A few useful features from Amazon’s Echo devices are making the jump to Fire TV, too. Need to know which flicks are showing and where for date night? You’ll be able to ask Alexa questions like “What movies are playing nearby?” or “Where is Angry Birds playing?” to get a list of nearby theaters and showtimes. And if you need a romantic dining suggestion, Fire TV will have that covered, too: you’ll be able to ask “What Japanese restaurants are near me?” to view top-rated places within driving distance. Alternatively, if you’d rather spend the night in, you’ll be able to prompt Alexa to read aloud any Kindle e-book in your digital collection with a simple command like “Read To Kill a Mockingbird.”

A more capable Alexa isn’t all that Fire TV devices are getting. Amazon is updating the YouTube app on select Fire TV models to support the service’s 4K Ultra HD content. (You’ll need a UHD-compatible TV to take advantage, of course.)

The update will start hitting Fire TV devices in the U.S. today, Amazon said in a press release, and finish rolling out by the end of summer.

The update, in many ways, is less about Amazon’s streaming set-top ambitions than the company’s ambitious effort to commoditize Alexa. The retailer has worked quickly to recruit developers large and small in beefing up its assistant’s capabilities — Alexa recently gained support for Domino’s Pizza orders and Kayak flight price tracking, and earlier this month made its way, with Amazon’s blessing, into third-party voice assistant apps for iOS and Android devices. The impetus for Amazon’s haste? Imminent competition: rumblings suggest Google is working on a voice-activated, Echo-like device of its own that could be released in the next few months.

But that’s not to marginalize Amazon’s Fire TV business. It remains, after all, the “No. 1 streaming media player in the U.S. across all retailers” as of March, Amazon said, and that’s not surprising — we came away from the latest model with quite favorable impressions.

Movies & TV

Why ruin a good thing? These are some of the worst movie sequels ever made

A sequel that doesn't compare to the original film isn't worth making, right? Unfortunately, this is Hollywood we're talking about. We've picked out 12 films which will go down as some of the worst follow-ups ever made.

Today’s best Amazon deals: Instant Pot, Dyson, and Ring

Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be over, but for retail giants like Amazon, the savings are only getting started. We've scoured the depths of Amazon to find you the very best deals going on right now.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.

Choosing one of these smart TVs under $300 will make you look like a genius

Buying a good cheap smart TV is easier than ever. To help you out, we've sniffed out a half dozen of the best models out there with prices starting at just $130. We've even thrown in a couple 4K smart TVs, with these UHD models still…
Home Theater

Here's how to pick out the best TV stand to enhance your viewing experience

This TV stand buying guide will cover how much space you need for equipment, how the stand manages cables, and the size of the stand you need as you look for a new model that fits in your home.
Movies & TV

Do you have questions about Hulu? We’ve got answers

Not sure which Hulu subscription is right for you? We're here to help. This is your complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV, including content offerings for each service, pricing, internet requirements, and more.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Godzilla,’ Brightburn,’ ‘Triple Frontier,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's the first trailers for Brightburn and Triple Frontier, among other previews.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma, ‘Sabrina’ special

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: Alfonso Cuaron's new film Roma, Jim Henson's classic fantasy The Dark Crystal, and more.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Fluance’s four beautiful new turntables arrive with easy-to-stomach prices

Acclaimed audio brand Fluance launched four new turntables as part of its new Reference series, aiming to offer elegant looks and pristine sound to those who are just getting into the world of high-end analog audio.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (January 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in December 2018 and January 2019, from new original series to classic…
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.