Far from being just a smart speaker, Alexa now has over 70,000 skills, or commands, it can carry out. From turning on lights, to adding items to your grocery list, Alexa’s ultimate goal is to make people’s lives simpler and more convenient.
And to that end, what could be better than never having to search for the remote in the couch cushions ever again? That’s right, Alexa can turn on your TV, change the channel and search for a specific show, all without you having to lift a literal finger.
However, just like any tech, the learning curve for setting up these skills may have kept you from taking full advantage of your device’s capabilities. According to The Amazon blog, Amazon “sold tens of millions of Echo devices” in 2018, and year-end numbers for 2019 are likely to outperform those stats. So, read on to learn how to connect Alexa to your TV.
The difference between Alexa and Echo
There are more than a few virtual assistants on the market and it can be complicated to keep them all straight. Each virtual assistant has multiple devices it can use as its platform.
Alexa is not the name of the physical product, but rather the name of the computer program that you speak to through your chosen device. Plus, you’ll want to remember that while Alexa is the name of Amazon’s virtual assistant, there are many Amazon products that Alexa can work through.
Use this table to remember which devices go with which assistants so you can make sure to buy compatible pieces of equipment throughout your home.
Virtual assistants and their compatible devices
|Virtual assistant name||Brand association||Product line|
|Alexa||Amazon||Echo, Fire TV|
|Siri||Apple||iPhones, iPads, Apple HomePod|
|Nest Hub, Google Home, Android phones|
|Bixby||Samsung||Galaxy phones, Galaxy Note, Samsung TVs|
|Cortana||Microsoft||Windows 10, Windows phones, Invoke smart speaker|
As noted above, Alexa works with the Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV line of products. This can include Fire TV stick with built-in Alexa, Fire TV Cube, Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show and all previous generations of said products.
Alexa, turn on TV
Currently, lots of TVs and streaming devices are compatible with Alexa and respond to voice commands. But while most devices will allow you to change the channel and search for shows, not all enable you to actually turn the TV on and off. Which, at the end of the day, means you would still need to hang on to your TV remote.
So, we’re going to focus on the true multitaskers, the heavy-lifting devices that let you turn your TV on and off with your voice, plus let you control other aspects of your TV-watching experience, too.
TV remotes and infrared sensors
Modern remotes turn your TV on via an infrared (IR) sensor, which is the little red dot at the top of your remote. Why is this important? Because to control your TV with something other than the native remote, you will need a device that has an IR blaster.
However, since most Alexa devices do not have an IR blaster, you need a middleman to enable her to control your TV. An IR blaster will communicate with the sensor on your TV in place of the remote. The one exception is the Fire TV Cube, which comes with an infrared sensor.
Here are the options to turn your TV on and off using Alexa voice commands:
Fire TV Cube
As mentioned above, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube does it all — it can turn the TV on and off with just your voice, no remote required. It allows you to navigate through all the menus and apps on your TV and it responds to all the non-TV-related Alexa commands too (such as “Alexa, what is the weather?”) — even when your TV is off. This device has an infrared sensor built in, so you do not need to buy any other connecting pieces of equipment. Just plug the cube into your TV’s HDMI port and you’re all set.
A smart home hub
If you have one of the other Amazon devices that does not have an infrared port, such as an Echo, Echo Dot or Fire TV stick, you will need an adaptor before you can turn your TV on and off with just your voice. An adaptor, or hub, will convert your voice into the infrared signal that controls your TV on/off function.
There are several options for smart home automation hubs on the market. The Logitech Harmony Hub is one of the most popular hubs, and Samsung makes a top-rated one as well. Plus, an adaptor will make it possible to turn on or off any device that uses an infrared sensor, including your DVD player, soundbar, gaming device and so on.
How easy is it to connect the hub to your existing Alexa network? Open your Alexa app on your cellphone > Menu > Skills > and select the Hub > Activities > Link account. Once you’ve paired your Alexa with your hub, you can say, “Alexa, turn on TV,” without needing your remote.
Use your cellphone
The other option to connect Alexa to your TV is through a cellphone with an IR blaster. IR blasters are a component on some smartphones, though mainly on Android devices, since Apple does not produce iPhones with this feature. If you own a smartphone with an IR blaster, then you can bypass the adaptor and just use your phone as the hub.
How can you figure out if your phone has a built-in IR blaster? Search the make and model online to confirm your cellphone’s specs, or simply check to see if there are two dots on top of the phone, like in the photo below.
To turn your TV on and off with your voice via your cellphone, you will need a smart TV. A TV that is not connected to Wi-Fi will not work for this function. Similar to how to set up your cellphone as a TV remote, you will need an app to link your smart TV and your Alexa device. All three items — the cellphone, the TV and the Alexa — must be on the same Wi-Fi network.
Apps such as Smart TV Remote or AnyMote are two of the most popular in the Google Play Store. Pair your cellphone with your Alexa by going to Settings, and selecting your Alexa device. You will then be able to use your cellphone as a voice remote.
Other ways to control your TV with Alexa
As mentioned earlier, there are a host of other Alexa-compatible devices that can be great to use with your TV. So, if you already own one of these items listed below, the good news is you’re halfway to hands-free.
While your voice won’t turn your TV on and off with these devices, these three TV-friendly options have tons of other Alexa skills for you to explore. Then, just add in either of the two options above, the hub or a cellphone with an IR blaster, and you can quickly convert your home setup into the ultimate voice experience.
- Fire TV stick with built-in Alexa: This streaming stick’s setup is so simple — just plug into an HDMI port on your TV. This device can handle lots of Alexa commands, but you will have to press the microphone button on the remote first, so it’s not completely hands-free.
- Fire Edition TV: Any of the Echo family of devices, including the Echo Dot and the Echo Show, can connect to a Fire edition TV (Toshiba and Insignia have these versions), or a TV with Alexa compatibility (Samsung, LG and Sony all make compatible models). Using the Alexa app on your smartphone, you can link your Alexa device to your TV.
- DISH and DIRECTV: The DISH Hopper or the DIRECTV Genie both react to Alexa commands to search for shows or schedule your DVR recordings.