When Google Home Max debuted in 2017, we asked Google if the smart speaker would be compatible with televisions like a sound bar. The answer was no, but the company is finally putting some emphasis on the sound bars with Google Assistant. The first product in this category is the JBL Link Bar. It is an Android TV transmission box, sound bar and smart speaker, all in one. Although it debuted in 2018, only now, as of July 11, 2019, is it available for purchase, for $ 400. We hope we can get a review model soon, but in the meantime, this is what we learned after passing a time reviewing it in Google I / O 2018.
Sound bars are sparse and do not take up much space, and are a relatively affordable way to improve the audio capabilities of your TV. JBL's link bar looks like any other sound bar: it's elegant and subtle, with physical controls for the volume at the top, including a mute switch. What makes it different is that it not only has the intelligence of Google Assistant, but also works with Android TV.
In short, this means that the sound bar can not only do everything a Google Home speaker can do, but can also drive. Your TV too That would be impressive on its own, but the Google Assistant, which was added to Android TV last year, takes things to a whole new level.
Using the familiar phrase "Hello, Google", you can search for movies and TV shows. , or upload videos on YouTube. You can control smart bulbs, play music or ask about the weather, and the best part is that you do not need to turn on your TV to use the link bar. If the TV is off, the link bar will only turn on the screen when it detects a visual component in your query. For example, if you are asked to play your favorite TV show, the TV will turn on automatically. If you are simply asking about the weather, the TV will remain off.
The link bar has two far-field microphones that can pick up your voice easily.
When you call Wizard when the TV is on, it only occupies a small part of the bottom of the screen. As with the Google Assistant on Android TV, you can control all your browsing experience. However, what surprised us was switching between the TV inputs only with our voice. If you have multiple devices connected to the HDMI ports on your TV, such as a Nintendo Switch, a DVD player or a PlayStation 4, you can tell the Assistant to "switch to PlayStation", and that's it. It's time to play.
In practice, during our brief demonstration, everything worked relatively well. The link bar has two far-field microphones that can pick up your voice easily, even when the sound is playing.
So, how does it sound? Not very good, but we only had the opportunity to listen very briefly. While it easily became incredibly strong, the link bar lacked bass, so the music sounded incredibly flat. We expect improvements in audio quality in the final version of the Link Bar.
The good news is that you can expect to see more sound bars like the Link Bar towards the end of the year. Google said the JBL device is only the first in a planned series of hybrid devices with Android TV and Google Assistant. The technology is solid, and the interface is intuitive. We can not wait for other third-party manufacturers to develop these sound bars.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for a sound bar with less built-in intelligence, take a look at our list of the best sound bars you can buy.
Updated July 11, 2019: Updated with purchase information.