You Will Soon Be Able to Control Your Xbox With Alexa and Cortana

Posted on September 6, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Games, Xbox One with 15 Comments

Microsoft’s Xbox One is getting a whole lot easier to use. The company today announced a new Xbox Skill for Cortana and Amazon Alexa, letting users control almost every aspect of their Xbox One with their voice.

If you have an Amazon Alexa-enabled device or a Cortana device, you will be able to control a bunch of things on your Xbox One console with the new Xbox Skill. The new skill is being tested with Xbox Insiders in the United States, to begin with, though it will expand to more users later on.

Microsoft’s new Xbox Skill enables users to turn on/off their console with their voice, and even launch games and apps. You can, for example, tell your Echo speaker to “Alexa, start Fortnite” and it will turn on your Xbox One, log you in, and launch Fortnite with just a single command. You can even use it to start and stop broadcasts, control media playback, capture screenshots, navigate around the Xbox One system, and more. There’s a “Ask Xbox what can I say?” command that will let you discover everything the skill can do.

Xbox Skill for Alexa and Cortana is essentially a clever way of bringing some of the Kinect voice controls that were available in the past. Microsoft moved away from supporting Kinect a while ago, but fans of Kinect can get some of the same experience with the new Xbox Skill on their Xbox. It’s also very interesting to see Microsoft supporting Alexa here, probably because of Amazon’s market dominance with smart speakers. Then again, Microsoft is partnering with Amazon to integrate Alexa into Cortana, and vice-versa, so all of this integration across different products makes a ton of sense.

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Comments (15)

15 responses to “You Will Soon Be Able to Control Your Xbox With Alexa and Cortana”

  1. ReformedCtrlZ

    I've been waiting for this forever... good thing I have a google home -_-

  2. gregsedwards

    Oh. Thank. God.

    As someone (maybe only one) who has both an Xbox One and an HK Invoke in the same room, I'm really looking forward to more elegant solution for interacting with my Xbox than having to say "Hey Cortana..." and then waiting just enough time for the Invoke to give up before following-up with "Turn on the Xbox" or "Launch YouTube." Otherwise, I get to hear Cortana on the Invoke respond with "To turn on your Xbox 360 console and your Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, press the Xbox Guide button on the controller.." (presumably from the top web search result) or "I'm sorry, I can't launch apps here."

    It's less problematic the other way around, because if I want to target just the Invoke, then I can simply say "Cortana...," (the Xbox never dropped the "Hey" requirement).

    Turning on my TV through my Invoke is also loads of fun. I keep my Xbox One S in an entertainment cabinet, and since the S no longer uses Kinect for IR, I've had to run a separate IR emitter from the console to my TV and soundbar. Generally, the Xbox can toggle the TV and control the volume, but sometimes it's hit-or-miss. Luckily, it's a Vizio SmartCast Display, which actually has an Alexa skill. So, when I need to control my TV with my voice, here's how it generally goes:

    Me: Cortana, launch Alexa.

    Cortana/Alexa: Alexa here.

    Me: Turn on the living room TV.

    Cortana/Alexa: What else can I do for you?

    Me: Goodbye.

    And believe it or not, that's actually an improvement, thanks to the recent Cortana/Alexa integration. In fact, just writing it out here makes me realize what a ridiculous solution it is, and yet I do it. Every. Single. Day.

    In the past few weeks, I've kicked around the idea of just getting a Logitech Harmony Hub, but I really detest the idea of adding yet another smart hub, app, or remote into the mix. I've heard that it's a great solution when it works, but there are times the devices get out of sync, and then you pretty much just have to turn off everything and start over. I much prefer the elegance of letting my Xbox control my other entertainment hardware, so I'm cautiously optimistic that better voice control will solve a lot of my problems.

    • VancouverNinja

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      I am interested to see if I can easily use Cortana. My Glas thermostat has turned out to be very cool and I like the Cortana capabilities. I have Invokes arriving next week so this will be fun to check out.

      • gregsedwards

        In reply to VancouverNinja:

        I'd be very interested to read your feedback on that experience.

        I haven't taken the plunge yet on Glas, because I just bought a couple of Honeywell Lyric smart thermostats earlier this year. They're compatible with HomeKit, Alexa, Google, Cortana, and SmartThings, and they seem to do the job pretty well. That said, I am eager to check out Glas and see how the Cortana integration works. I just don't know that I'm $319 interested...

        I understand that it's really just Windows IoT Core, so basically the standard Windows 10 Cortana experience with a minimal UI that's designed for the device. One reviewer even pointed out there's a Windows 10 OSK for typing information. So does that mean you can interact with Glas Cortana like you would with any Windows 10 PC?

        In general, while I've found Cortana to be a versatile assistant, it doesn't feel like Microsoft thought through the multiple-device scenarios at all. I mentioned above that running Cortana on multiple devices within earshot of each other starts a free-for-all, as they all attempt to respond. Cortana really should be able to figure out which device is going to take the lead and answer each request, and the others should just defer. Even if you have to manually configure a priority for your devices in the plumbing somewhere, there's got to be a better solution.

        Then there's the multiple-user problem. On a PC, Cortana is tied to each user's account, so she's personalized based on who's logged into the device. But on the Invoke, she's tied to one user's MSA per device. Therefore, she doesn't distinguish between me, my wife, or the kids, and that impacts the experience. If my wife asks Cortana to list upcoming appointments, she gets my calendar events. It's a problem in connected apps like Spotify as well. If I'm listening to Spotify at work and someone at home says "Cortana, play … on Spotify" then my music immediately switches to the Invoke...there's no heads-up whatsoever. The "official" solution from Microsoft: create a dummy MSA just for the Invoke, get a family Spotify Premium account, and tie one of the users to the speaker's MSA. Seriously?!

  3. RM

    "Hey, Cortana, tell Alexa, to turn on Xbox." because Cortana is likely going to use Alexa to get to the skill, since Cortana (the last I heard) does not have many skills. I would rather be in a noisy room and say "Cortana turn on the Xbox downstairs" and have it know it is my voice and log me into my normally pin protected Xbox account on the Xbox downstairs and not the one in the room I am in. Because, lets face it, games on Xbox are lacking split screen, and forcing you to have more than one Xbox account to play a game with someone in your family. Of course the last I knew Xbox Gold Live had to have one Xbox One as the single "home" console, so now you have to have two Gold Live Accounts? What a mess, clean this up Microsoft!

    • VancouverNinja

      In reply to RM:

      No. They have said it will work with either - which is why this hookup between Cortana and Alexa is the best solution available today. If I am right it is going to be the solution to beat next year.

  4. Rob_Wade

    I already can do that with our Kinect. And it automatically signs me or my wife in because it has the awesome camera. There's no reason I have to lower myself to use Alexa and muddy the waters in our household.

  5. maethorechannen

    The new skill is being tested with Xbox Insiders in the United States, to begin with, though it will expand to more users later on.

    Yeah, more users in the United States.

  6. gregsedwards

    Also...this is a nice write-up, but how about a link to the (assumed) source article?

    I generally consider it bad form to shout out another website here, but honestly, it goes into a lot more depth on how all this will actually work, including links to get everything wired up and a full list of supported commands. Y'know, useful information like that. ?

    I was able to connect to both the Alexa and Cortana skill. Now I just need to pair my consoles when I get home to kick the tires.

  7. kjb434

    This would be a lot easier if they just let you plug a mic into the Xbox that is not the discontinued Kinect or into a controller.

    A basic room mic would work and can be third party.

  8. gregsedwards

    So, having tried this out last night, I can tell you it works pretty well. There are a surprising number of supported commands, it's reasonably quick, and for the most part it doesn't get tripped up by having both Cortana and Alexa connected nor by leaving the on-board Cortana voice support enabled.

    Setup is a bit convoluted, but this may just be a temporary issue while they're testing it with Alpha ring members. You have to enable the requisite skills on your voice platform(s) of choice, which involves signing into your MSA and granting permissions. Then you have to go to your console's settings and actually enable assistant support. From there, it Xbox (Beta) shows up as a skill under Cortana and Alexa.

    I have multiple Xbox consoles in my home, and I'm still a little fuzzy on how the final connection is made. The Alexa skill seems to have settings that supposedly show linked devices, but I'm not seeing my consoles listed there; I may need to check this again when I get home, but I was able to use it successfully last night without completing this step so ?‍♂️… The Cortana skill is less configurable, but it also seems to work just fine. Looking at the skill's description, apparently there are steps you can take through Cortana to pair it to multiple consoles. Like I said, I didn't do any of that, and I was able to use it successfully last night.

    I still have some questions. I'm assuming the skill/pairing is per user, but what happens if I use Cortana linked to my MSA to issue a command, but someone else is logged into the console? How do I reliably refer to a specific console by name when issuing commands? I'm also gonna have to rethink how I've named my consoles, which up to this point has been based on the room (living room, bonus room, etc.). Now that voice assistants are involved, I don't want an errant command intended for a lighting group to wreak havoc on my Xbox. How does the Xbox skill handle more context-specific voice commands? For instance, what happens if I ask Xbox to record a clip, but I'm not playing a game?

    Still, this works far better than I expected, especially for such and early beta.