New JBL Link Bar soundbar pulls triple duty with Android TV and Google Assistant

We speculated that Google would have some Android TV announcements at I/O 2018, and here’s the first of the bunch: a new partnership with JBL to launch a soundbar that pulls triple duty as an Android TV device and Google Assistant speaker.

It’s called the JBL Link Bar, and it’s the first product in an expansion of Android TV beyond standalone set top boxes and TV integration to new multi-purpose form factors.

Soundbars are incredibly popular for people who want to inexpensively upgrade from their TV’s built-in speakers but can’t go all-in with a multi-speaker surround system, and now there’s a soundbar that can provide more than just a sound upgrade. When you get the JBL Link Bar hooked up to your TV, you get a complete Android TV experience just like a set top box including voice commands. It also has four HDMI ports (presumably three in, one out) and supports HDMI switching in the soundbar itself, so it can act as a basic AV receiver as well. Ethernet and a 3.5 mm jack are on the back for even more connectivity, which are nice to see.

This thing is a triple threat, and the exact kind of product Google needs to expand Android TV.

We don’t have power or speaker specs just yet, but if it’s at all based on JBL’s current entry-level soundbar you’re looking at about 30W of power and a pair of tweeters supported by a woofer — typical stuff for this kind of product. JBL is first and foremost an audio company with lots of experience in this realm, so you can expect the Link Bar to sound good.

When your TV isn’t on to provide video, the JBL Link Bar continues to work as a standalone Google Assistant speaker as well with “Hey Google” always-listening capabilities and audio responses without firing up the TV. And with its rather large size and multiple speakers, it can provide an experience more akin to the Google Home Max than a standard Home.

Unfortunately, we’re still a handful of months off from the JBL Link Bar being available. Google is simply giving the time frame of “fall 2018” for its release, and isn’t providing pricing information yet. JBL’s standard soundbar retails for about $120, so my best guess would be a price of about $200-250 for the Link Bar given its extra capabilities.

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