TORONTO – Samsung’s latest high-end TVs feature a couple of innovations that threaten to make the old-fashioned remote control obsolete.
But it’ll likely take some time before that actually happens.
Samsung is the first in Canada to sell a TV that can be controlled by voice or with a wave of the hand.
In theory, being able to talk to your TV could be quite useful. It’d be incredibly handy if you could just say, “Find ‘Breaking Bad'” or “When is ‘Big Bang Theory’ on?” to get zapped to the right channel or get a list of future air times.
Unfortunately, Siri it’s not.
You can say “Hi TV turn on” to bring it to life, or use voice to change the channel, adjust the volume, or load an application. But that’s really about it. Probably the most handy use of voice recognition is with the TV’s built-in web browser. Instead of having to input text into a search field with a remote — which is a cumbersome process — you can just speak what you want to search for instead.
The gesture controls are even less inspiring. First off, you have to ensure the lighting in your room is adequate for the TV’s camera to focus on you, and align its lens to where you’ll be on the couch. If things aren’t setup just right, you can wave endlessly at the TV and nothing will happen. Even under ideal conditions, just getting the TV to recognize that your hand is in the air, ready to be seen, is a challenge. Sometimes it works immediately, other times it takes a lot of frantic waving until the camera finally picks up your hand.
Once you’re recognized, the process of gesturing to control an on-screen icon is awkward. You look a little silly doing it. It feels unnatural and it doesn’t take long until your arm feels a bit fatigued. And it just isn’t nearly responsive enough to be fun to use. It’s difficult to smoothly command the icon; most movements are jerky and imprecise.
While watching TV, the gesture control options aren’t that helpful. You can wave at the screen to access on-screen buttons to change the channel up and down or alter the volume. But that’s far less convenient than using the voice recognition option — or just picking up the remote.
Gesture controls are most practical when using the TV’s built-in apps or web browser — but it’s still a disappointing experience. When you’re aiming for large icons it’s not too hard to hit the target, although it still feels tedious. But any time you have a small link to click it’s a frustrating challenge.
It’s a shame, because if the controls were easier to use, there’s plenty to like about the web browser and selection of apps. You can access Netflix, video rental sites and even play Angry Birds — although it’s still far more fun on your phone — without needing any other hardware. You can also have a Twitter or Facebook feed displayed along the side of the screen while watching TV. But given how temperamental the gesture controls are, the apps may not get a lot of use.
The TV does come with a second remote control that has a touchpad on it, giving users another way to move the on-screen cursor. But it too is badly designed and doesn’t offer smooth control.
You can buy a 55-inch LED version of Samsung’s voice- and gesture-activated TV for about $2,500. On the bright side, the TV has incredible picture quality, better than any other set I’ve seen to date. But while the voice recognition and gesture controls sound cool, they are not features worth investing in.
So for now, the remote is going nowhere.