A smart speaker and streaming box all in one, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) has a few impressive tricks which might make it an attractive addition to the modern lounge room.
Google got the jump on Amazon in Australia when it comes to smart home gear but, in the US, Amazon is the king of the hill with its Echo speakers and Fire TV streamers, while Google is the upstart challenger. That’s clear when you look at the impressive range of options that Amazon has in each smart home category compared to Google’s limited offerings.
Amazon tends to treat Australia as an afterthought but, after a slow start, it is finally bringing more of its smart home gear to Australia. With the new Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen), Amazon’s not just playing catch up with Google. The new Fire TV Cube is a great example of how Amazon does a better job of thinking outside the box than Google in bringing new ideas and form factors to the smart home, similar to the interesting wall-mounted Amazon Echo Show 15 smart screen.
The new Fire TV Cube combines the strengths of an Echo smart speaker and Fire TV streaming device in one unit. The real showstopper is an extra HDMI video port on the back – an HDMI input that lets you run your favourite set-top box through the Fire TV Cube, so you can use them both on the television at the same time.
That HDMI input is full of promise, but don’t get your hopes up. After all these years, Australia still tends to be an afterthought for Amazon.
Standing only 7.7 cm tall, the tiny Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) is small enough to tuck away out of sight. Despite this, you don’t want to hide it away. The fact that it’s covered in mesh like a smart speaker is the first sign that there’s more to this little streaming box than meets the eye.
On the top you’ll find the four standard Echo smart speaker buttons – volume up/down, action and mute for when you don’t want Alexa listening.
It’s great to see an Ethernet port on the back, which is handy if you’ve got an Ethernet switch in your home entertainment cabinet to avoid Wi-Fi woes. Don’t fear if you haven’t got Ethernet at hand, as the Fire TV Cube also supports the latest Wi-Fi 6E standard which helps with flinging video smoothly around your home.
For it to work its best in the lounge room, the Fire TV Cube should be facing you with an unobstructed view, so it can hear your voice clearly. It should also be at least 30 centimetres away from your television’s speakers, so it can hear you clearly over the sound of the television.
Placing it in your lounge room might be a bit of a challenge when the Fire TV Cube also wants to plug into an HDMI input on your television, soundbar or AV amplifier. As part of the setup, you can configure the Fire TV remote and Alexa to control these devices.
Getting the Fire TV Cube in the perfect spot gets even more complicated if you also want to run one of your home entertainment AV devices to your television through the Fire TV Cube’s HDMI input.
For example, you can plug your Foxtel box into the Fire TV Cube and watch Foxtel by tuning your television to the Fire TV Cube and selecting the Fire TV Cube’s HDMI input. It’s a bit like the way people ran their DVD players through their VCRs back in the day.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) also comes with a Bluetooth remote control which features a few extra buttons compared to your standard Fire TV remote. It adds channel up and down buttons, a settings button and a recent content button, all to hopefully make life easier when you’re controlling the AV device plugged into the HDMI input.
The remote control features dedicated buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music. There’s also an Alexa button that lets you talk to the smart assistant without needing to say “Alexa” first.
Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) specs
4K 2160p, 1080p and 720p up to 60 fps Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, VP9, AV1, Audio: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis, Dolby Atmos (EC3_JOC), Dolby MAT, Photo: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
4K 2160p, with support for upscaling
Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound, 2-channel stereo, and HDMI audio pass through up to 5.1.
HDMI Input, HDMI Output, IR Extender, Power, USB-A, Ethernet port
Like other Amazon Echo speakers, you can call upon Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to answer your queries, play your favourite content and control the smart devices around your home.
When your television is switched to the Fire TV Cube, Alexa answers you through the television’s speakers and also displays some answers on the screen. When the television is off, Alexa answers you through the Fire TV Cube’s built-in speakers. This also lets Alexa talk you through parts of the setup process, as well as guide you on the screen.
As a Fire TV, the Cube brings all the streaming usual suspects into your lounge room, such as YouTube, Netflix, Stan, Paramount+, Disney+, Apple TV+ and, of course, Amazon Prime Video. Along with its subscription library, Amazon also offers new-release movie rentals.
Under the bonnet, a new octa-core 2.0 GHz processor makes the Fire TV Cube twice as powerful as the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. This ensures fast app launch speeds and helps with a smooth user experience.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to content, but the Fire TV menus can also help you find something to watch. You can create up to six user profiles for personalised recommendations, watchlists and viewing history for the different members of your household.
Of course, it’s that HDMI input on the back which really makes the Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) interesting. Unfortunately, in Australian lounge rooms, it probably won’t deliver on all of its potential.
As part of the setup process, you can select from a wide range of connected devices including cable/satellite pay-TV boxes, disc players, streaming boxes/dongles, PVRs and games consoles. Keep in mind it’s limited to 60 Hz, so you might not want to plug in a 120 Hz games console.
In Australia, for example, you might plug in a Foxtel or Fetch TV box – the devices most commonly used for watching free-to-air and pay TV.
To watch the video coming from your attached AV device, such as a Foxtel box, you select the input for the Fire TV Cube on your television to bring up the Fire TV Cube’s home screen. From the Fire TV Cube’s menus you select Inputs, then select the HDMI input and you’re now watching the Foxtel box. Alternatively, under Inputs, you can select Media Player and play files from the onboard storage or an attached USB device.
Looking at the remote, it’s disappointing that Amazon hasn’t added a dedicated button for switching to the HDMI input. It would be especially useful for other members of your household trying to navigate your complex entertainment setup.
To make life easier, you can allocate a name to the HDMI input, such as “Cable”, and then say “Alexa, switch to Cable”.
Admittedly, running your primary viewing device like a Foxtel or Fetch box through the Fire TV Cube sounds like a hassle. The advantage is that you can now interact with Alexa while watching television – or perhaps streaming movies or playing console games, depending on what’s plugged in.
Alexa will talk to you through the television’s speakers and even display some results on the screen, such as the week’s weather forecast, without interrupting what you’re watching.
How useful you find this depends on how tightly Alexa is integrated into your life. For example, you can ask Alexa to show the feed from a Ring camera in the corner of the screen (Picture-in-Picture) while you’re watching something on a streaming service.
It’s disappointing that the Fire TV Cube doesn’t offer a universal Picture-in-Picture option. This way you could use any of the Fire TV’s features, all while keeping an eye on the football on Foxtel in the corner of the screen.
One device to rule them all?
To make life easier, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) can also use HDMI-CEC to relay commands from the Amazon remote control to your other AV devices via HDMI cables. There’s no trouble getting the Fire TV remote and Alexa to control the sound on your TV, soundbar or AV receiver, but it can do a lot more. At least in theory.
The Fire TV remote can also control the AV device plugged into the Fire TV Cube’s HDMI input. This means you can navigate the menus, play/pause content and even change channels on the attached AV device, such as a pay TV box, without needing to reach for that device’s remote on your coffee table.
You might have seen this trick before. Depending on how smart your television is, its remote control might work the same way with some of your home entertainment gear.
In theory, this trick should work with most AV devices plugged into the Fire TV Cube. Apparently, it works well in the US. But here in Australia, I only got it working on the Apple TV 4K. I had no luck with the Chromecast with Google TV, Fetch TV Mighty, Foxtel iQ4 or Sony PlayStation 4.
At this point, it’s worth acknowledging that, if you read the description of the Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) on Amazon’s US website, it says you can: “Connect compatible devices and easily go from streaming to your cable box, game console, or webcam“. They drop the words “cable box” on the Australian website.
No such luck
Realistically though, HDMI-CEC is a fairly universal standard, so you would expect it to work on most devices. No such luck in Australia, although it gets complicated.
For starters, it looks like the Fetch TV Mighty surprisingly doesn’t support HDMI-CEC. But the Foxtel iQ4 and PlayStation 4 do, yet it still doesn’t work with the Fire TV Cube – even after enabling HDMI-CEC control in the iQ4’s and PS4’s advanced menus.
To be fair, my LG television’s remote can’t even control the Foxtel iQ4 via HDMI-CEC when it’s plugged directly into my television. But not so with the PlayStation 4 or the Chromecast with Google TV. Plug those devices straight into the television and you can use the television’s remote to navigate their menus. But plug them into the Fire TV Cube’s HDMI input and the Amazon TV remote is useless. The Apple TV 4K was the only box that cooperated.
In the US, judging by reviews, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) plays very nicely with cable TV boxes, so it can be the heart of your entertainment system. But forget about it in Australia when using Foxtel and Fetch.
Even basic HDMI-CEC functionality, which would make it more practical to plug your favourite AV device into the Fire TV Cube, doesn’t work in Australia.
If your television is switched off and the Fire TV Cube is asleep, when you wake the AV device connected to the Cube’s HDMI input, the Cube should wake itself up, wake up the TV, and then show you the video from the AV device. This simple trick works in the US, but no luck in Australia.
That’s really not good enough. You have to wonder why Amazon would even bother releasing the Fire TV Cube in Australia if it couldn’t be bothered going to the effort of enabling the key features which actually make it an interesting product.
As a fallback, the Fire TV Cube can also send out infrared commands, either directly or via an IR extender. Getting the Cube in the right position in the room to do this, while still meeting all its other location requirements, is nigh on impossible. Even then, I couldn’t get it to work.
Hands-free voice control
One of the advantages of marrying an Echo speaker and Fire TV is that – assuming the HDMI-CEC control features play nicely with your AV devices – you’ve got full voice control over your entire home entertainment system. Some members of your household might find this invaluable if they struggle with physical remotes, but it’s of limited use in Australia when HDMI-CEC is mostly crippled on the Fire TV Cube.
There are other options. Some smart speakers can already relay commands to some home entertainment gear via your home Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, it’s often slow, cumbersome and limited compared to using HDMI-CEC commands directly through an HDMI cable.
Even then, for simple single-button commands like play, pause and volume controls, it will always be faster, easier and more reliable to reach for the remote rather than speak to your devices. Especially if your devices don’t always grasp your meaning on the first attempt.
Voice commands become more practical for complex tasks like searching for content, or launching specific content on specific apps. This is where the Fire TV does well.
For starters, you’ve got impressive voice control over the Fire TV’s own apps and interface. You can say “Alexa, Play Stranger Things” and it launches Netflix, finds Stranger Things and highlights the next episode. Now just say “Alexa Play” and you’re away, without ever touching the remote.
What’s particularly impressive is that Alexa can also control the attached HDMI device. Commands like “Alexa scroll up/down/left/right” and “Alexa select” are a bit cumbersome, but they get the job done.
Unfortunately, once again, this only works if you can get your attached box to respond to commands from the Alexa remote via HDMI-CEC. As such, I got it working on the Apple TV 4K, but no luck with the other AV devices.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) is a great idea nicely executed, but it’s just so frustrating that Amazon hasn’t gone to the effort of getting its best features to work in Australia.
If you can look past that, then combining the features of an Alexa-powered Echo smart speaker and Fire TV streamer in one device has a lot going for it. Especially if someone in your home struggles with using physical remote controls.
If you just need a streaming dongle then go with the Fire TV stick, but Alexa on the Fire TV Cube puts a world of entertainment at your beck and call, without needing to reach for the remote on the coffee table.
Would I buy the Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen)?
Maybe, if I was an Amazon-centric household in search of a lounge room smart overhaul but could overlook its massive HDMI-CEC shortcomings in Australia.
Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen)
The Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd gen) puts Alexa in control of your loungeroom, but Australians miss out on its best features.
Value for money
Ease of use
Combines features of Echo and Fire TV
Brings Alexa voice control to your lounge room
Supports 4K HDR
Australians can't control most attached devices with the Alexa remote...
...or by speaking to Alexa
Difficult to find the perfect place to put it in your lounge room