July 26, 2012
Smart TVs are changing the way we watch the box as we speak - and rendering humble traditional remote controls as outdated.
The way we control TV is finally transforming, writes Mike Wilcox.
THE days of the humble television remote control are all but numbered, thanks to the new generation of ''smart TVs'' on the market. Some of the latest models spring to life with the voice command ''TV on'', others change channels with simple hand signals and some smart TVs will even recognise the person standing in front.
While there's no doubt TV technology has evolved dramatically, the basic functionality of the standard-issue TV remote control has remained largely unchanged in almost 60 years, dating back to the first wireless model, the Zenith Flash-Matic, released by the Zenith Radio Corporation in 1955.
Over time, remote shapes and sizes have changed, and programmable universal remote controls and premium touchscreen models have offered enhanced options.
For the masses, though, channel and volume controls have remained the essentials.
This new generation of internet-ready smart TVs not only come equipped with enhanced connectivity and features, their makers are conjuring innovative ways to interact with the TVs, incorporating motion-sensing technology, gesture-based controls and voice-activated commands.
Three of the big players in the TV market have taken their own approaches to superseding the humble TV remote control. This year, LG updated the sleek Magic Remote that ships with its Cinema 3D smart TVs. The TV remote now also acts as an onscreen pointer, uses motion gestures and features an integrated microphone.
Sony hasn't overhauled the remotes for its Bravia TVs, but the unique double-sided remote that ships with the company's new internet player with Google TV offers one of the more comprehensive remote controls on the market.
And moving away from remote controls almost entirely, Samsung's latest flagship smart TVs are designed to be operated through simple voice commands, hand gestures and face recognition.
''We're seeing things possible with TVs now that were considered science fiction not five or six years ago in Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, such as the human-gesture control we saw in that movie,'' says Brad Wright, national sales and marketing manager of audiovisual at Samsung Electronics Australia.
As to what the next evolution of interaction with our TVs will involve, Sony Australia group manager of network services and technology Paul Colley predicts the emergence of dual-screen content consumption through companion apps. ''The live interaction between tablet and smartphone apps, and the on-air content that consumers are watching on TV, will see a big increase,'' Colley says.
''At the end of the day, what will drive the future of innovations is what consumers want.
''And when people are in front of their TV, all they really want is to be entertained.''
LG Cinema 3D Smart TV
LG'S Wii-style Magic Remote included with its flagship TV range received a welcome update this year.
In addition to a collection of wand-waving gestures to navigate general functions and the TV's smart capabilities and online features, voice commands can be spoken into the remote's integrated microphone when performing online searches and creating messages in social media apps, reducing the need to type.
Navigating through websites is easier thanks to the remote's new scroll wheel and pointer function, which allows users to simply aim the remote at the screen to select things.
Samsung Smart TV
SAMSUNG'S flagship Series 7 and 8 plasma and LED TVs have all but shaken off the need for a remote control.
These TVs can be turned on and off, and channels changed and volume settings adjusted, with voice prompts. Users can also use the integrated microphone to say words and phrases for Google and YouTube searches.
An integrated HD camera can be used to detect a selection of hand gestures for navigating the TV's Smart Hub of apps, including Skype, which automatically logs into a user's account with face recognition.
Internet Player with Google TV
WHILE Sony is remaining relatively conservative with the standard remote controls of its TV range, the recently launched Internet Player with Google TV, which is exclusive to Sony in Australia, brings all the power and functionality of an Android-powered smart device to Sony's flagship TVs, as it is being bundled with the Bravia HX750 and HX850 models.
To properly use the huge range of Android apps and games available, plus Sony's Entertainment Network of music and movies, the Google TV system includes a motion-sensitive, dual-sided remote featuring a touchpad and buttons on one side and a backlit qwerty keyboard on the other.