The JBL Link Bar, the first soundbar with Google's Android TV platform built-in, was announced last year but was delayed multiple times. It is now shipping in the US and UK.
Android TV in a soundbar
Google’s Android TV platform has seen limited success with flagging market share and slow updates. As part of an initiative to reinvigorate the platform, Google has announced a refreshed user interface and a plan to bring its TV operating system to new form factors.
First announced in May 2018, JBL Link Bar is one of these new form factors. At first glance it may look like a standard soundbar but it brings the full Android TV platform as well as Google Assistant to your TV screen. In addition, it has Chromecast (video and audio) built-in.
The soundbar comes pre-loaded with Android 8 (Oreo). Of course, one pressing question is; who is responsible for updates? Is it Google or will JBL serve as a middle-man? Can buyers expect the JBL Link Bar to be continuously updated for years to come?
Integrated far-field microphones will respond to “Hey Google” commands. JBL says that it is possible to enable a “PrivacySwitch” if you are concerned about the soundbar listening in on your conversations in the living room.
The soundbar delivers “up to 100W” stereo audio output. It comes equipped with three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output (with ARC). JBL will offer an optional wireless subwoofer. The soundbar does not support the latest audio formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X but the company points out that it does support high-res 24-bit/96kHz audio streaming.
TVs from Sony, TCL, Philips, Hisense, and others brands already come with Android onboard. Google explains that the JBL soundbar is "the first in a series of hybrid devices that delivers a full Assistant speaker and Android TV experience" and that it can bring the Android experience to TVs from all brands. TCL and Roku are also partnering to make a “smart soundbar” with the upcoming Roku voice assistant built-in.