Amazon Hearth TV Dice (2019) evaluation: enhancements on all sides

The primary Hearth TV Dice from Amazon was actually three merchandise in a single: a Hearth TV streaming machine, an Alexa good speaker, and a common distant for different gadgets hooked as much as your TV. It supplied the identical streaming expertise as Amazon’s different Hearth TVs, however the built-in microphones allowed the Dice for use solely hands-free by means of voice instructions. It may additionally management cable containers, soundbars, and A/V receivers with the assistance of built-in IR blasters. However the authentic Dice lacked Dolby Imaginative and prescient HDR, and ultimately Amazon launched a less expensive Hearth TV Stick 4K that did have Dolby Imaginative and prescient for much less cash, leaving the do-everything Dice in a clumsy spot.

So for 2019, Amazon has refreshed the Hearth TV Dice to make it the clear flagship of the lineup. It’s bought the identical precise design as earlier than, however now has Dolby Imaginative and prescient, a extra highly effective processor, and sooner response occasions. Amazon is making an attempt to minimize the Dice’s dependence on the cloud, with a brand new “native voice management” characteristic that processes fundamental instructions on the machine itself. And the brand new Hearth TV Dice can nonetheless management your property theater parts and dim the good lights whenever you sit down for film evening — all with simply your voice.

The Hearth TV Dice seems to be utterly unchanged on the skin. It has the identical controls as an Echo speaker on prime (with a matte texture) with eight tiny microphone holes, and it’s shiny all over the place else. I get that Amazon selected this design for optimum IR sign passthrough, however the factor stays an enormous mud magnet nonetheless.

Round again is an HDMI output, energy, an enter for the included IR extender, and a Micro USB port for the ethernet adapter (additionally within the field) when you want it. You’ll wish to use the skinny IR extender twine if a few of your property theater parts are out of sight or tucked into a cupboard. Sadly, Amazon nonetheless isn’t together with an HDMI cable with the $120 Hearth TV Dice.

Amazon recommends that you just place the Dice at the least one foot away from any speaker. Even with audio blaring from a Sonos Beam, I discovered the mics to be fairly good at choosing up my voice and the “Alexa” hotword at a traditional talking quantity.

Dolby Imaginative and prescient and HDR10+ are new to the second-gen Hearth TV Dice; the primary mannequin solely had fundamental HDR10 assist. HDR passthrough labored simply superb on my TCL TV, with the show robotically recognizing when Dolby Imaginative and prescient or HDR10 content material was being performed and making use of the suitable expanded colour and brightness settings. With all main codecs now supported, you’ve bought loads of selections for streaming 4K between Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu, and different apps. As a Hearth TV, this yr’s Dice is objectively superior to the unique.

Nevertheless it’s nonetheless solely so-so as a common distant. The Hearth TV Dice can management most TVs, receivers, and soundbars — plus some cable containers You’re requested to decide on your gadgets throughout setup, after which Alexa will know the ins and outs of your gear. Usually, the IR emitter works effectively at getting instructions by means of to your property theater parts and turning every part on in sync. However for different hardware like recreation consoles or Blu-ray gamers, Alexa can’t do very a lot in any respect. The Dice will change to the suitable HDMI enter, however then you definately’re by yourself. That’s all you’ll be able to actually count on from IR blasters, however corporations like Caavo try to do extra with on-screen machine studying.

Nonetheless, Alexa does really feel extra responsive this time round. Native voice management leads to sure fundamental voice instructions being executed as much as 4 occasions sooner than earlier than, as a result of the Dice handles them straight and doesn’t want any assist from Amazon’s servers. The awkward pause after a voice command is gone — however solely typically.

Native management works in your frequent capabilities like navigating the UX. You’re actually telling Alexa which technique to scroll or choosing a quantity to open the app or content material that you just wish to watch (“Alexa, play quantity 5”). Apps like Netflix and Hulu have been optimized for hands-free voice management with these on-screen numbers subsequent to choices , however that’s not true for a lot of different streaming apps. In these circumstances, you’re nonetheless higher off simply utilizing the bodily Alexa distant. And the Dice will nonetheless have to verify with the cloud for quite a bit of instructions, even when the fundamentals are actually significantly speedier.

The Hearth TV Dice contains the Alexa Voice Distant for whenever you don’t really feel like doing every part along with your voice.

As for its secondary perform as a wise speaker, the Hearth TV Dice has turn out to be a greater Alexa speaker due to continued software program updates. It now helps calls, voice messages, and the Drop In characteristic, so it’s mainly on equal footing with an Echo. It’s also possible to add the Dice to a multi-room music setup with different Alexa gadgets. Keep in mind that the Dice all the time performs music requests by means of your soundbar or TV audio system; the built-in speaker is okay for Alexa’s voice responses however isn’t appropriate for a lot else.

Amazon says the Dice now has a hexa-core processor, and the Hearth TV interface has felt snappy in my time utilizing it up to now. However some homeowners of the unique machine discovered that it slowed down over time and exhibited an irritating quantity of lag, and I haven’t had sufficient time to rule out that risk. Amazon is adamant that the Hearth TV Dice is now its quickest Hearth TV, nonetheless, whereas the Hearth TV Stick 4K set the bar earlier than. So it ought to be extra constant and capable of run Kodi, Plex, and different apps with out concern.

The software program expertise largely matches that of different Hearth TV gadgets. All of the apps you’d need are there, and Amazon has lastly patched up the YouTube gap that existed final yr. YouTube TV is now out there as effectively, although Sony’s PlayStation Vue will get most well-liked therapy amongst streaming TV providers and is built-in straight into Amazon’s reside information.

My common nitpicks with Hearth TV’s dwelling display stay: Amazon can push its originals slightly too aggressively, and it additionally steers prospects in direction of Prime Channel subscriptions for HBO, Starz, Epix, and different networks. However whenever you seek for a style or particular film or present, the platform does a very good job of displaying you all over the place it may be streamed. And seeing visible responses for Alexa queries (like asking for the climate or looking for close by eating places) is a pleasant contact. However these options aren’t distinctive to the Dice; they’re now a part of Hearth TV OS as an entire.

I feel the Hearth TV Dice makes probably the most sense for people who find themselves simply getting began with Amazon’s ecosystem. If you have already got an Echo Dot in your lounge, the Hearth TV Stick 4K makes extra sense. It gives the entire similar Dolby and HDR assist and prices simply $50. Plus, the Alexa Voice Distant bundled with that machine can be able to controlling your TV and soundbar. You’ve actually bought to need the Dice’s hands-free powers — and its capability to drag double obligation as an Alexa speaker when the TV display is off — for the $120 to be price it.

Pictures by Chris Welch / The Verge

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