One of the standout features of the Amazon Fire TV Cube is its universal remote features that let it control other devices, such as TVs, A/V receivers, and cable/satellite boxes. It does this through a clever blend of new and old technologies. For newer devices that support it, the Fire TV Cube uses HDMI-CEC, which allows consumer electronic devices to communicate and control each other through the HDMI connection. For older devices without HDMI-CEC capabilities, it uses infrared signals through a built-in IR blaster, which is how most remote controls communicate. The best part is you don’t have to know or care how your devices communicate because the Fire TV Cube walks you through a simple setup process and takes care of it all for you.
At the end of the initial setup process, after you’ve done things like set up WiFi and logged into your Amazon account, but just before you’re shown a welcome video and are sent off to the home screen for the first time, the Fire TV Cube asks you to set up your equipment. You can safely skip this step, if you prefer, and do it later without any difference to the outcome of your configuration.
The main Fire TV Cube settings area has a new Equipment Control menu where all the various universal remote settings and configurations live. If you don’t set up equipment control during the initial setup process, you can do so from this menu. At any point, like if you move the Fire TV Cube to a different TV or drastically change your home theater equipment, you can select the Set Up Equipment Again option to reset everything and have the Fire TV Cube walk you through the same equipment setup process that it has you do during the initial setup.
The equipment setup process is surprisingly simple and literally takes just a few minutes. Having gone through the process of configuring a Logitech Harmony hub and remote in the past, the Fire TV Cube’s equipment setup is starkly different and nowhere near as cumbersome. Anyone who is capable enough to connect A/V equipment together is more than capable of configuring the Fire TV Cube to control that equipment.
The steps that the Fire TV Cube walks you through while setting up equipment control will be different for everyone. This is not only due to differences in equipment, but also differences in the technology that the equipment supports. As I said earlier, you don’t need to know anything about that technology or whether your equipment has it, but the setup will be longer for some and shorter for others.
The Fire TV Cube does what it can to auto-detect equipment, and asks you for verification when it can or asks you to select from a list of manufacturers when it can’t. For my newer “smart” Element TV, it skipped several configuration steps that it asked me for my much older “dumb” Pioneer TV. Overall, all you really need to know is the make of your equipment and which inputs everything is connected to. When asked to select a make, the list of manufacturers given is ridiculously massive and seems to imply that the number of supported equipment is equally massive. It places the most common manufacturers at the top so most people won’t need to scroll through the main list. For my two setups, it never asked for specific equipment models and was able to auto-detect most devices.
Once you tell the Fire TV Cube very basic information about your home theater equipment, it proceeds to go through a dance as it turns things on/off, mute/unmute, and change inputs. It’s actually fun to watch it take control while it asks you to verify things like if you can hear music playing, if the correct image is being displayed on the TV, and if it switched inputs successfully.
One clever thing is how it utilizes the Fire TV Cube’s internal speaker during the equipment setup process. When it mutes your equipment, it asks if you stopped hearing the music by speaking through the internal speaker, since you obviously can’t hear it through your regular speakers anymore. The same thing happens when it switches inputs, since at that point it can no longer give you instructions on the screen.
For me, the only hiccup through the entire process was it not being able to control input switching on my older TV. I don’t know if that’s a limitation of the TV, since it’s an 11-year-old 720p plasma that’s as “dumb” as it gets, but the Fire TV Cube is able to receive updated IR profiles, so there’s hope that it will gain the ability in the future. It’s not a big deal for me since the Fire TV Cube can still control power and volume on that TV, which is much more important, and it’s a spare TV that never leaves HDMI 1 anyway, but I can see how that can be discouraging if it happened to someones primary TV.
The end result is being able to control your home theater equipment through Alexa on the Fire TV Cube. The initial setup process walks you through configuring control of your TV and an A/V receiver or soundbar if you have one. You can then add additional equipment, like cable/satellite boxes, DVRs, Blu-ray/DVD players, game consoles, and other media players like Rokus and Apple TVs, through the main Equipment Control menu in the Fire TV Cube’s settings area.
Cable and satellite boxes are the only other equipment that the Fire TV Cube can control on an advanced level. By advanced, I mean that the Fire TV Cube can do more than just switch to the device. For supported cable/satellite boxes, which currently include boxes from DIRECTV, AT&T U-verse, DISH, Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon, Cox, Altice, and Frontier, the Fire TV Cube can change channels, either by name or number, and navigate through the interface for you.
For all other equipment that you add to the Fire TV Cube’s configuration, you’ll only be able to ask the Fire TV Cube to switch to that device. It can’t turn it on or control it. When adding this equipment, you essentially just tell the Fire TV Cube which TV input it’s connected to and what to change with your receiver or soundbar, if necessary. Then, when ask to switch to a device, it handles all the input switching and will return you to using the Fire TV Cube correctly when requested.
In addition to adding additional devices, the Equipment Control menu has a bunch of options that allow you to fine-tune how the Fire TV Cube controls your home theater. The only setting that I needed to modify was the Volume Increment value because I wanted the volume to rise and lower in smaller steps when I asked for it to be changed. It’s great that the Fire TV Cube provides these extra options for those who want to tinker, but I suspect the slew of settings will be overwhelming for many and could lead to poorer performance. Thankfully there are buttons to reset to default options everywhere and you can always reset everything by just redoing the setup process from scratch.
There are too many options to go into detail on all of them, but one option is the ability to manually, instead of automatically, control power. The Fire TV Cube, by default, will predict when you want things to turn on. For example, if everything is off and you press the Home button on the remote, the Fire TV Cube will power on your TV for you. With this setting set to manual, you have to explicitly ask for devices to turn on/off for the power state to change.
Another option worth mentioning is the Power On Delay setting available for each device. This essentially controls how long the Fire TV Cube waits after powering on a device before it sends it additional commands, like switching inputs. For my A/V receiver, the Fire TV Cube selected a conservative 7 second delay, but since my receiver is ready to accept input changes almost instantly after it powers on, I can lower this setting so that everything is configured a few seconds earlier when I ask to turn on the TV.
Lastly, there’s the option to turn off equipment control altogether. Doing so will essentially turn the Fire TV Cube into a Fire TV 3 that also happens to have an Echo Dot sitting on top of it. The nice thing is that turning off equipment control after you’ve gone through and set everything up does not reset your settings. It’s more of a temporarily disable switch than a clear option. So you can switch it on or off with no repercussions.
That’s an overview of what it’s like to set up the Amazon Fire TV Cube to control your home theater equipment. In a followup article, I’ll go over the details of what it’s like using those universal remote capabilities.