It's no secret that every major TV maker is racing to beat Apple to the punch on a voice-controlled TV. Samsung — the world leader in HDTVs — just showed off its brand new 2012 Smart TVs at its spring showcase in New York and we had a chance to experience its voice and gesture controls. Read on to find out if talking to your TV and waving your hand is more intuitive than using a remote control.
The Four Pillars Of Samsung's Smart TVs
Samsung accredits four major innovations that make its 2012 Smart TV unlike any others before it: voice control, gesture control, facial recognition, and a swappable brain (more on this in a bit).
Combined, the four form a Smart TV that is supposed to make the entire viewing experience more enjoyable. So does it all come together? Not quite.
We only had a chance to demo Samsung's ES8000 (that beauty you see up top) in English, but a Samsung rep assured us that voice control would support 23 languages. From what we saw, voice control isn't there yet. Several times during the demo, we noticed the TV missed the mark and didn't pick up what was being said to it or it just took too long to understand. And that's a demo inside of a mostly sound-proof box. Imagine what would happen if it's in a noisy living room.
Although Samsung says that the TV has a pair of noise-canceling mics, we really didn't get a feel that they worked very well. Also, there are still times where you need to say keywords like "Hi TV" to activate certain commands — hardly the natural interface that Apple's touting with its Siri.
Kinect-like gestures can also be used to navigate around the Smart Hub interface, but again, it's still premature as it only recognizes single gestures — either from the left or right hand and there is some pretty bad lag. To select onscreen buttons, a user merely hovers over it, and then makes a fist to "click" on it. Be prepared to make lots of claw gestures.
On the top of the TV is an integrated camera that has built-in facial recognition. Between voice and gesture control, facial recognition seemed to be the most robust as it can detect all the faces in front of it, assign a login to a face and make Skype video calls. Finally, no more extra TV camera add-ons that cost hundreds of dollars.
But, the most exciting part of Samsung's Smart TV strategy is what it's calling "Smart Evolution Kit." Rather than embedding the Smart TV's processors and UI directly inside of the TV, Samsung's making it a detachable and upgradable little box that slips onto the back of the unit. Samsung didn't show anything beyond a slide, but its executives did seem genuinely excited about the prospect of being able to "upgrade" your Smart TV down the line with a faster processor, more memory, new OS, etc.
In simpler terms, just think of the "Evolution Kit" like an Apple TV that can be attached to your Smart TV, so when a new model rolls around, you just replace the old box — and not your entire TV.
Samsung says that it's the only company that can provide a "future-proof" TV like this because its the only TV maker that manufactures all of its components.
The Remote Isn't Dead
With all the new forms of controlling your TV, you'd think the TV remote would be dead, right? Not a chance. The ES8000 comes with what Samsung calls a "Smart Touch Remote." It's still a remote in the sense that you hold it in your hand, but it lacks the dozens of buttons you'd find on traditional clickers.
Replacing the menacing variety of buttons is a trackpad at the top, buttons for volume, buttons for changing channels (no numbers, just up and down), a voice control button (for speaking into its mic) and a Smart Hub button. How's that for simplification?
Not enough control options? How about some more? In addition to those, Samsung's also releasing a $100 Smart Touch Keyboard that combines a Smart Touch Remote with a QWERTY keyboard. Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets and Galaxy smartphones can also control the company's 2012 Smart TV lineup.
The Future Isn't Here Yet
We admit it — we want to see a real voice controllable TV. We want it to work like Siri so we don't need to bother with a remote control. That is the proposed future of TV control.
Samsung's offerings that start at $3,000 for a 46-inch ES8000 and balloon up to $5,100 for a 65-inch are a nudge in the right direction, but still lack a lot of polish. Until the software UI gets better, more apps are available (only about 28,000 apps currently) and the voice control and gestures are spit-shined, these TVs are just an early adopter's temptation.