Your next Android TV set-top box could double as a Google Assistant smart speaker
From smart speakers to soundbars to routers, you’ll find Google Assistant on loads of different devices these days. Similarly, you’ll find Google’s Android TV OS preinstalled on several types of devices, from projectors to set-top boxes to TVs. In the future, you may be able to pick up a set-top box that runs Android TV and doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker.
Putting both Android TV and Google Assistant into a single product isn’t new. Nearly every Android TV device has Google Assistant built-in, but they generally require activating Assistant through a dedicated button on the remote. They’re not fully voice-controlled like the myriad of Google Assistant smart speakers available on the market today. There is one product that gives you the full Android TV and Google Assistant smart speaker experience, though. The JBL Link Bar is a soundbar that has far-field microphones for voice-activated Google Assistant support, and it also has an HDMI port to connect to your TV so it can act as an Android TV set-top box. After an over year-long delay, the JBL Link Bar was released to harsh reviews that criticized it for failing to cohesively merge all three device types it aimed to replace.
Although the JBL Link Bar flopped, it seems we’re on the path to getting new devices that combine a Google Assistant smart speaker with an Android TV box. As spotted by @AndroidTV_Rumor on Twitter, SEI Robotics has announced the first Google Assistant smart speaker with Android TV built-in. SEI Robotics is a Shenzhen-based company that creates white label Android TV products for operators and other companies. For example, they manufactured the ADT-2 for Google as a development platform for Android TV. Their latest product is for a Vietnamese telecom provider called FPT Telecom. It’s called the FPT Play Box and it’s marketed as “the world’s first hands-free Android TV box.”
The FPT Play Box is a bit bigger than your standard Google Assistant smart speaker but it has a familiar puck-like design. Under the hood, it’s powered by Amlogic’s S905X3 SoC, which notably doesn’t support AV1 video decoding — a future requirement for certified Android TV products. It’s paired with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. More importantly, it has 2 far-field microphones to pick up “Hey Google” or “Okay Google” commands from afar.
Unless you live in Vietnam and are an FPT Telecom customer, you’ll probably never get your hands on the FPT Play Box. What’s interesting about this product to us is the fact that it even exists. Google strictly controls what products are allowed to ship with Android TV, which is why you see many no-name set-top boxes ship with a custom flavor of Android instead of the familiar Android TV interface. Now that Google is certifying smart speakers with Android TV and budget ODMs are mass-producing such products for operators, it’s only a matter of time before this combination becomes more widespread. We’ve seen smart speakers that double as set-top boxes in the past, like the Swisscom Box, SFR Box 8, and Freebox Delta, but no product since the JBL Link Bar has married Android TV and voice-activated Google Assistant. Hopefully, you won’t have to settle for one or the other in the near future.