Cord Cutter Weekly

Of all the possible uses for voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, controlling your TV has the most potential. With so many streaming apps to keep track of, each with their own complicated menu systems, a simple voice command can cut through the clutter. Why thumb around endlessly on a remote when you could just say “watch ESPN” instead?

Unfortunately, not all streaming TV devices treat voice control the same way, and not every streaming video service works with voice commands in the first place. So instead of being a magical experience, it’s often an exercise in frustration.

To make things a bit easier, I’ve put together a comparison of voice control on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and Chromecast, so you can find a setup that works for you. It even includes a helpful chart! Read the full column on TechHive.


Roku Ultra review: So, I sent out last week's newsletter without realizing my Roku Ultra review had gone up on TechHive earlier that morning. No big surprises here: Roku's high-end streaming box can launch some apps faster than other models, but the difference isn't drasti. And now that Best Buy sells a "Headphone Edition" of the cheaper Roku Streaming Stick+, private listening through the remote is no longer a unique selling point for the Ultra. Its two programmable buttons are nice to have, though, and the Ultra's other main attractions remain, including a remote finder function (invoked by pressing a button on top of the box), a USB port for local media, and an Ethernet jack.

On the software side, the new Roku OS 9.2 has some modest improvements—most notably the human-curated "Zones" that come up when you search for certain genres— for the most part you’ll still watch things by browsing through individual apps, arranged in a grid on the home screen. That's either good or bad depending on how you view Roku's straightforward approach. (Personally, I wish Roku provided some easier ways to pick up shows you're currently watching and offered more expansive voice controls, per this week's column.)

Apple TV on Roku: Speaking of Roku, Apple has made good on plans to bring its TV app to the platform. You can buy and rent from iTunes or access existing purchases, and if you've subscribed to any services through Apple TV Channels, such as HBO or Showtime, you can access those subscriptions as well. More importantly, you'll be able to watch Apple TV+ when that service launches on November 1. (If you've bought an Apple device after September 10, you get a year of Apple TV+ for free; otherwise it's $5 per month.)

Compared to the TV app on Apple TV boxes, the main limitation here is that it doesn't link out to other apps like Amazon Prime and Hulu for any shows you're watching. Any shows you're tracking through the "Up Next" section will simply show an iTunes purchase option. And while rumors were hinting at AirPlay 2 support on Roku earlier this year, that hasn't materialized here.

Beyond Apple TV, the TV app is also available on some newer Samsung TVs, and on select Vizio TVs via AirPlay. Apple plans to bring its app to Fire TV, LG TVs and Sony TVs as well, but those options aren't available yet.

Read the news on your TV: One more plug for my own work. Over at Fast Company, I wrote about the Washington Post's new app for Apple TV and Fire TV devices. Instead of offering video as you might expect, it's a reader app that lets you scroll through print stories on the big screen. You can scroll left or right through a carousel of stories (picked by human editors), then scroll down to read the ones that look interesting, with knobs for adjusting text size, font, and background color. Weird as that might seem, the app is pretty charming as an alternative to the firehose of news we get on other platforms. In a way, it reminds me of reading an actual newspaper.

Streaming TV's "chaos era": Also at Fast Company, my colleague David Lidsky wrote a good piece on the future of streaming in light of Netflix missing if its subscriber goals again last quarter. I love this analogy in particular: "The streaming wars are not going to be a war so much as a chaotic series of battles day by day, perhaps even hour by hour, to hold onto customers who can ruthlessly hop between services the same way that they used to flip channels."

While it's easy (and lazy) to say that the cost of all these new streaming services adds up, the reality is that people are generally smart enough to add and drop services as needed. And given the new pattern of binge-watching entire series, flipping between subscriptions to hit each notable show won't be as rare or burdensome as it's sometimes made out to be. The result, for Netflix and others, will be a brutal struggle to keep customers on board, and we'll ultimately reap the benefits of this increasing competition.


IAmazon is once again discounting its excellent Fire TV Stick 4K streamer. It's down to $35 from the usual $50, and select customers can get it for $25 by visiting this page or using the code 4KFIRETV at checkout. Read my review for more details.

Just a friendly reminder that in addition to this newsletter, I've got another one called Advisorator that offers tech advice of all kinds. The latest issue, for instance, covers some surprisingly great keyboard shortcuts, new tricks for Google Assistant and Google Maps, upgrade advice for Mac users, and more. Subscribers also get deal alert emails and personalized advice on demand. Sign up for a free trial here.

Apologies for the slightly later than usual email. I've been cranking extra hard on streaming reviews and other assorted deadlines, and didn't have much time to put the newsletter together before today. Fortunately, I have cleared through my reader email backlog, so now would be a great time to send me your column ideas, questions, and other assorted feedback. Just reply to this email to get in touch.

Until next week,


Trouble reading this email? Try the web version
Cord Cutter Weekly is a labor of love by tech journalist Jared Newman. Say hi on Twitter, and spread the word that there's a better kind of TV out there.

Click here to unsubscribe.