Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

I have confession to make. I talk back to my TV. My patient wife knows this all too well. My remarks usually are sparked by some atrocious grammar error or pronunciation mistake made by a “professional” announcer or newsreader. I am not above yelling at some politician on the screen who is avoiding a question or spinning some very negative happening into a something for us all to celebrate. And don’t get me going on the father and daughter TV tag team telling me that they will put aluminum siding on the back of my house for free. Of course my TV doesn’t listen to me. That may now change.

One of the technologies that got a lot of attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, was voice recognition. While this technology has been around for a several years incorporated into mobile phone auto dialers and some high end automobiles, it has been somewhat unreliable. I for one have a hard time getting my phone to dial with voice commands. That is another column.

Responding to the complexity of the once simple task of watching TV in your living room, several manufacturers have demonstrated controls for TVs that allow you to speak the commands. Want to watch some college hoops? Just say “Watch ESPN2.” Want to know what Jim Cantore has predicted for the tri-sate? Tell your TV that you want to “Watch the Weather Channel.” The TV figures out the channel number or if the service is from cable, off air or perhaps from the Internet.

Samsung is building voice recognition into some new TVs and others are making remote controls that will respond to your voice commands. Many of these devices are still not perfected. Even some of the demonstrations at the CES were plagued with some miscues. Like any technology, the bugs will be worked out and soon voice recognition will be as ubiquitous as touch screens are now. Recently Apple released “Siri,” an application for the iPhone 4s that listens to your commands and performs tasks like web searches, appointment booking and meeting reminders. Perhaps this is the best example of how far voice recognition progressed.

The reason behind this effort to add voice commands to the TV is the desire to simplify controlling the myriad of options now available even in a simple TV. Turning captions on and off, changing from cable to off air reception, and watching a DVD or playing a game often require several commands. Since many TV manufacturers want to make the TV the centerpiece of the digital home, they must find a way to keep the operation simple and intuitive. What can be simpler than just speaking your commands?

So in the not too distant future when your kids ask the TV to “Watch HBO” they might hear “I’m afraid I can’t do that until you do your homework!”

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