Does anyone remember the earliest remote controls for TV’s? Would you believe they operated like flashlights? Talk about a technology working it’s way into the hearts (and sofas) of American homes. Starting back in the 1950s as highly promoted luxury for the “modern” home, it wasn’t long before they were the subject of late-night comedians, the focus of husband/wife debates and of course, inevitably lost in the cushions of chairs and couches.
But suddenly there are new voices in the world of control in the home. Helpful assistants named Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Cortana and others now compete for the pleasure of working in your home. Under the general heading of AI (Artificial Intelligence), these new home helpers bring with them a surprising control of technology: Curious about the weather; ask. Pining for a certain song; ask. Don’t flip through a binder of CDs for the right song; shout. And you can forget about that coffee table full of remotes. These days, just say “Alexa, play ‘Bering Gold’” to follow up on your favorite show on Discovery Channel and things begin to happen: your TV comes on, as does your streaming device and your powered soundbar, your show is found, and it even starts you off where you left it last.The “Intelligence” part of AI is certainly impressive.
According to John Taylor, senior VP at LG Electronics, “The control and convenience that comes from the next generation of voice is really going to enhance the TV experience”.
While there is now quite a collection of voice-activated control products on the market, here are some of the newer ones to be heard from (or spoken to).
One that is generating a lot of interest is the new Amazon Fire TV Cube ($120 on amazon.com). Marketing director Jen Prenner described it as not so much a universal remote, but more a combination of the Echo and the best of Fire TV. The shiny 3-inch cube manages almost any media device you own via voice command—without a mess of wires.
If you were to say “Alexa, turn up the volume”- it happens. Say “Alexa, good night” and everything powers down. The Cube can switch on the TV and many of its connected devices via one cable using HDMI-CEC technology. This same cable also feeds Cube’s functions to the TV, including 4K picture, streaming apps and HDR10 or Dolby Atmos sound.
Like most modern-day remotes, Cube can blast invisible infrared to up the volume, switch channels and inputs or push pause on a DVD. But unlike most remotes, Cube gets smarter each day, adding functions via Amazon’s Cloud.
Other brands are also making sure their “voices: are heard in the remote evolution. Polk and Sonos are introducing soundbars that do many of the tasks that the Cube does, but with great sound in the mix. The Polk Command Bar ($300, polkaudio.com) has the brains and dial of an Echo and modes like Movie, to equalize movie dialogue, music and effects so voices can be heard clearly. With two tweeters, two mids and a 6.5-inch wireless woofer, “it’s quite loud,” playing up to 100 dB, said Marty Wachter, director of UX and technology for Command Bar.
The new Sonos Beam offers similar functions in a more modest size ($400, sonos.com). It can also connect with a suite of other Sonos devices throughout your home so you can stay with your show while heading for the kitchen or laundry room.
In the overview of Voice Command - there are still some drawbacks and limitations, just like with any evolving technology. Some people distrust devices that “listen” at all times. It also might not be wise to shout commands at the TV if your wife is sleeping and maybe your explanation of the show you want to watch is not be specific enough for to get you where you want it to go. That’s because voice control demands specificity.
And there is something remotely entertaining about channel surfing until you find whatever strikes you. For many - thats one of the most relaxing parts of enjoying the couch potato phase of life. There can be great comfort in having no idea what you’re looking for until you find it. Voice control wants you to know what you want - so it can do the finding.
“We’re in the very early stages of voice control,” said Mr. Wachter. “People have seen it since the 1960s with ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Jetsons’. This is just the start of it.”
A Historical Look at Remotes Over the Years - Hope you find this remotely interesting…
The first wireless TV remote actually worked like a flashlight. You could change volume and channels by pointing it at photoelectric cells in the TV screen’s corners.
1956 - Zenith Space Command | This remote had two buttons and no batteries. It changed channels and volume via ultrasonic waves, as a tiny inner hammer struck an aluminum rod to create frequencies only the TV could hear.
1980 - Viewstar Converter | This clever device used invisible low-frequency light, or infrared (IR), to control the TV’s functions. More than 1M were sold in the first five years as IR remotes invaded coffee tables.
1987 - CL9 CORE | As the number of devices to control soared, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak developed the first programmable universal clicker. Unfortunately, no one could figure out how to use it.
2007 - Logitech Harmony 1000 | At $500 retail this was a very serious remote control. You configured and updated by plugging it into your computer, could control up to 15 components in a room. Many are still in operation and they have many, many fans.
2018 - Amazon Fire TV Cube | We’ll see what the future brings, but for now, interest in the Fire is heating up. Using IR blasts in multiple directions, this voice-controlled cube can manage your entire home theater and learn functions via the Cloud. You may enjoy the irony of it even coming with it’s own remote…