Alexa devices will soon be able to control set-top boxes and video apps directly

Amazon has just announced an extension to their Alexa Skills Kit called the Video Skill API. This will allow developers to control set-top boxes and video apps directly through more natural language. Once a device or service you use implements these new capabilities, you’ll be able to simply say something like “Alexa, play Manchester by the Sea” and the content will start playing through the appropriate device.

The elephant in the room is the Amazon Fire TV line of devices. Customers have been asking for the ability to use an external Alexa device to control the Fire TV ever since the original Amazon Echo was released in 2014. What Amazon has announced here is the ability for any television device manufacturer or app creator to implement that exact capability. So the highly requested feature Amazon hasn’t yet added to their own line of TV streamers has come first to third-party devices, like the DISH Hopper set-top box.

Now that an official API exists for Alexa to control video playback on external devices, you have to assume it won’t be long before you’ll be able to use a device like the Echo or Echo Dot to control the Fire TV. It just would have been nice for Amazon to launch this feature on their own streaming devices first, before making it available to other manufacturers.

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6 comments
  1. Al Roman says:

    Sounds like we may be farther than I thought from universal search for content on installed streaming apps for Fire TV. This seems like the real “space race” between Apple TV and Fire TV, and Apple is winning at the moment… since at least you can voice search within apps on that platform. Is this the API needed for live streaming apps live Directv NOW and Sling TV to integrate voice search? If so, it’s going to take awhile to see it implemented in the wild…

    • AFTVnews says:

      No, this has nothing to do with the search functionality of the Fire TV. To be able to use voice within apps, Amazon would need to at least provide a voice interface for their onscreen keyboard. It seems like this is coming, since the Silk browser being tested internally appears to have this capability.

  2. Dave says:

    So if this becomes a thing on the Fire TV, will we no longer need that Harmony remote and hub?

    • AFTVnews says:

      If this becomes a thing on the Fire TV, you’d essentially be able to execute the same media/app commands that you can currently do through the voice remote, but now hands free through a separate Alexa device. This includes launching apps, starting shows/movies, skipping forward/back during playback, etc..

      There is still plenty that the Harmony hub can do in addition, so having both would be ideal. Things Harmony can do, which this potential new addition could not, is control your TV (power, input, sleep timer, and volume) and control play/pause within apps.

  3. Oco says:

    Upcoming feature at least since a few weeks ago, if you ask alexa on fire tv to play a movie on netflix it would ask to set it on first but config in app is still not available.

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