Using Google Home to play a show on Amazon's Fire TV
I was excited when my preordered Google Home arrived a couple weeks back. Most of my techie-life is tied up in Google's various services, so there wasn't really a debate for me between Amazon's Echo and Google Home. However I, like millions of others, use Amazon's Prime powered services, which includes their Prime Video programming. My wife and I primarily use the library of Prime Instant Video content for entertaining my 15 month old daughter. And despite our primary reliance on the Chromecast, we ended up picking up a Fire TV Stick so we could more easily stream shows like Daniel Tiger, Creative Galaxy, Sesame Street, etc.
If you're reading this blog, then you probably already know that Google and Amazon don't really have any interest in helping their mutual customers enjoy content on their competing services. Which was a bummer, because the idea of using Google Home to say, "Okay Google, start playing Daniel Tiger on the Fire TV," would be super awesome when our hands are tied and the baby needs a distraction.
But THANKFULLY, there's a workaround if you've got the right setup, and enough patience for a little trial and error.
The following represents the equipment, and steps I took to successfully program my Google Home to turn on my TV, home theater receiver, Fire TV Stick, and begin playback of Sesame Street with the phrase "Okay Google, turn on Sesame Street."
Here it is in action:
Home theater devices + apps used:
- An older, non-smart, Toshiba LCD TV 42RV530U (purchased in 2009)
- A Logitech Harmony Companion All in One Remote Control (this made my setup "smart"); the Harmony App
- A Yamaha RX-V465 receiver (not smart either)
- An Amazon Fire TV Stick
- A Google Home
- The IFTTT (If this, then that) app
The steps I took:
- Before I picked up a Google Home, I had the Logitech Harmony setup to buff up my older home theater setup. Basically, it's a wi-fi connected hub that allows you to set up 1-button commands for turning on your TV, Chromecast, blu-ray, etc. For example, instead of needing to select HDMI 2 on your TV remote, then HDMI 4 on your receiver, and the power button on your blu-ray--you just select the button that indicates blu-ray and everything turns on accordingly.
If you are still spending too much time explaining to friends or family how to use 3 different remotes when they visit, it's high time you get something like this.
- Once you have the Harmony app set up to work with you home theater TV, sound system, and Fire TV stick, you need to create a new activity that is targeted at playing a show.
In a world where Google and Amazon helped one another out, you'd be able to use voice to search for a show directly, but today that's just not possible. So you'll have to be specific about the show you want to play, you can't just say any old show. I my case, I picked Sesame Street (hey, I never said this was the ideal solution, but at least it's a solution for my use case).
The gallery below shows screenshots of most of the steps needed to make this happen in the Harmony app, but I'll try to specify them individually here:
- Select Edit activities, and Add Activity
- Select an activity icon and create an activity name
- Select the devices you use for the Fire TV Stick. Don't worry about the actual show yet, you'll set that part up later.
- Go through the next few steps and confirm that everything is powered on accordingly. I had to try a few times to get the Fire TV Stick to be powered on properly at this part.
- Once you've created the activity (that basically only has the function of turning on the Fire TV Stick), you're going to go back and edit the sequence of it to make it search for your show.
- Select Edit activities from the main screen, select the new activity, and then Edit Start Sequence
- This is the exhausting part -- from here you're going to add a ton of individual steps, and delays. Each step needs to correspond to you using the actual, physical remote. Look at the example screenshots of the steps I needed to add to start playing Sesame Street, but you'll need to program a separate start sequence step for searching, then navigating around the keyboard, selecting letters, and then confirming your search selection. And unless you have a bulletproof memory, I'd recommend using your actual Fire TV remote to determine what "the next step" is (aka - press the left arrow key on your physical remote, then program the Fire TV remote to enter "DirectionLeft" ).
- Note: you'll need to play around with the delay timing. For my setup, the Fire TV Stick really freezes up and takes a while to boot up if I haven't used it in a while, so I programmed it to enter "Home" a few times with a 2 second delay in between. If you don't give the system enough time to respond to your commands, the Harmony app will be taking steps to quickly.
- The End Sequence doesn't matter on the Harmony App.
- Now you'll use the IFTTT app. This app is pretty intuitive, but you'll just need to sign into your respective Logitech Harmony and Google accounts to make the magic happen.
- From the IFTTT app, select "+" to create a new applet, then scroll to find "Google Assistant" for the blue part that says "+ this". Log in if needed.
- Choose "Say a simple phrase" and come up with some personal dictation cues you'll provide to Google Home later. You can see the ones I used in the screenshots.
- For the second half the of the IFTTT "applet" you're creating, you'll choose Harmony, and then simply select the new activity you made for your Amazon show.
- You should be DONE! Leave me a comment if you have a question, I tried to write this up super quick, so I may have missed a few points.
Here's another video of the total number of Harmony steps I needed to make the Sesame Street activity successfully functional: