Fighting for the remote control is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
TV makers are employing technological developments in the mobile and gaming sectors - voice recognition, gesture sensors and smartphone apps - to redesign the TV remote control, which is overdue for a makeover.
The new remotes are shipped only with the latest (and expensive) generation of smart TVs, and the speak-to-the-TV revolution is mostly limited to early tech adopters who are willing to tolerate early-stage kinks. But industry experts are betting the technology will improve over time to appeal to a wider base of customers who find the traditional remote control cumbersome and poorly designed.
"The struggle with the TV remote is obvious. It's difficult to find things," says Matt Revis, vice president of the handset and TV business for Nuance, a speech-recognition software developer that has worked with Samsung, LG and Panasonic and others to power their voice command features.
When LG starts selling its Google TV in May, it will ship its Magic Motion remote that retains its slender baton shape but works like a Nintendo Wii controller and allows viewers to use it to point and click on main menu options. It also has a scroll wheel for surfing the web. Its speech recognition is limited to allowing you to speak to the remote and search for shows. The motion sensor clicker and the scroll wheel are now standard features with all LG smart TVs.
TV makers are also experimenting with voice recognition in the TV set itself. Samsung Electronics recently released three smart TV models with a "Smart Interaction" remote system that lets you turn on the TV, navigate menus and surf the web just by standing nearby and speaking - no remote needed. A facial-recognition feature logs you into app accounts. You only need a remote for voice commands when you are not close enough to the built-in microphone on the TV.
Eight LG smart-TV models come with a microphone-equipped remote control you can use to dictate text and search the Internet, says Jay Vandenbree, head of LG's U.S. consumer electronics business.
TV makers are also tapping into the smartphone's possibilities. In early 2011, Google developed an Android app prototype, Google TV Remote, that works with Sony's Google TV for basic functions such as changing channels and volume.
The Samsung Remote, an app for Android and Apple's iOS devices, works with many recently released Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players. The Smart Remote app - developed jointly by Samsung and Peel, a startup company - turns a Galaxy Tab tablet computer with an infrared emitter into a remote control compatible with most TV sets and Blu-ray players, including non-Samsung products, says Ryan Bidan, a director of product marketing for Samsung.
By Roger Yu