It turned out that the new Android TV pendant that leaked last month is only going to be available to developers, but all is not lost for those eager to see new consumer hardware running Android TV. JBL has announced the JBL Link Bar which is a mishmash of several home entertainment devices in one. At its core, it’s a soundbar that connects to your television, but it is also a full-fledged Android TV set-top box. Additionally, thanks to its far-field microphones and its Google Assistant capabilities, it’s essentially a smart speaker as well that closely mimics the functionality of a Google Home.
The JBL Link Bar is a 100W soundbar that will have an optional 200W wireless subwoofer. It has a pair of far-field microphones that let you control it with your voice and talk to the Google Assistant. On top are volume buttons, a microphone mute switch, a Bluetooth button for pairing its included remote or a phone, and an input toggle button for manually flipping through its 3 HDMI inputs.
Around back you’ll find those 3 HDMI inputs, as well as its HDMI ARC output port. There’s also an Ethernet jack and what appear to be analog and optical audio ports. Not much is known about the internals of the device other than that it is capable of outputting 4K video. It appears that the Link Bar will not support HDR video.
Since this is a hands-free voice-controlled device, you’ll be able to switch HDMI inputs, request content, and control playback using your voice, as is demonstrated in its marketing video. This closely resembles the functionality we’re expecting to see in the upcoming Fire TV Cube. However, while we expect the Fire TV Cube to be able to control all of your home theater equipment using its IR blaster, the JBL Link Bar can only control its own audio and its own HDMI ports.
While it won’t be a universal voice remote, like we’re expecting the Fire TV Cube to be, its HDMI input capabilities give it the interesting feature of being able to overlay Google Assistant information over external video sources. If you’re watching a Blu-ray or playing a game console connected to the JBL Link Bar, you’ll be able to make hands-free voice requests and see information on your TV on top off the external video source. So if you ask to see what’s on your calendar while playing a PlayStation game, the bottom third of the screen will display your agenda without switching away from your game. This feature is reminiscent of the original Google TV overlay or the Xbox One’s passthrough capabilities.
A big question potential buyers have to wonder is how long the JBL Link Bar will be supported with software updates. Many people are wary getting a TV with Android TV or Fire OS built-in because the hardware is likely to outlast the software. Audio equipment will often outlast TVs, so it would surely be a shame to have to buy a new soundbar and subwoofer down the line because an app or streaming service no longer supports the JBL Link Bar.
Google says they will be directly handling software updates for the JBL Link Bar, making it as close as you can get to a “Pixel Android TV” device, so that is at least a little reassuring. It will be among the first Android TV devices to run Android P when it is released later this year in the Fall. Pricing has not been announced.