Google is partnering with JBL to develop a new hybrid device that blends a standard sound bar with a streaming set-top box. The new product, called the JBL Link Bar, will work as an audio hub for your living room, but it will also run Android TV and come with Google Assistant integration to enable voice search and control.
It’s an interesting combination of home entertainment products, and it’s sure to strike a little bit of a fear into Sonos, which is planning what sounds like a similar product to be unveiled on June 6th.
According to a recent FCC filing, Sonos is planning to introduce an update to its Playbar and Playbase line of soundbars, but with Alexa integration and a direct HDMI connection. That way, the new Sonos soundbar could more directly control your TV and enable voice control as well. An image attached to its June event invitation implies the company is working on something akin to a universal remote, so the new soundbar may possibly run on Amazon’s Fire TV platform or may be capable of controlling what you watch and listen to through your TV through some other method.
What is clear, however, is that Google and JBL may beat Sonos to the punch. Google is billing its product as the “first in a series of hybrid devices that delivers a full Assistant speaker and Android TV experience,” so it’s clear JBL is not going to be alone in this category and other partners may be announced soon, perhaps during the Google I/O keynote tomorrow.
More impressive is that — beyond using the “Hey Google” command to control media and YouTube content — you can use the Assistant-powered voice control to play music from the Link Bar even when the TV is off. According to Google, the device will also connect via HDMI, and it will enable input switching via voice so you can jump from TV and movies to a game console or other device.
We don’t have pricing details yet, but Google says JBL will start selling the Link Bar later this fall.