For the past few days we have been mostly shouting and waving our arms at the TV. Not because we’ve been watching Big Brother, not because we’ve been playing excessively with an Xbox Kinect or PS3 Move systems, and not even because we’ve lost our minds.
No, the reason for our unusually ‘physical’ TV interactions is that the TV in question has been Samsung’s new UE55ES8000: the first TV to truly attempt to replace the traditional remote control with an ‘alternative’ control system.
There have been half-hearted stabs at this before; we remember with a shudder, for instance, JVC’s ‘clapping’ system, whereby you could perform two or three basic functions by clapping your hands. But the UE55ES8000 is to previous alternative control attempts what Mount Everest is to a gentle hillock. Well, nearly.
The set actually delivers no less than three control innovations: voice control, gesture control, and a touchpad remote control, which we’ll look at in turn in a moment. Before we do so, though, it’s worth pausing to reflect on exactly why Samsung has felt that now was the right time to serve up such a comprehensive suite of control innovations.
The main inspiration for the new control systems has been the expansion of Samsung’s Smart TV services. With so many icons to choose from, web pages to navigate and in-depth search engines to utilise, Samsung has - thankfully - decided that normal remote control input systems no longer cut it, as they make interfacing with some of the new features just too fiddly and long-winded.
As we started playing around with the UE55ES8000’s trio of new control options, we definitely had our sceptic’s head on. Having failed to be seduced for the most part by either Microsoft’s Kinect system or Nintendo’s Wiimote, and also feeling convinced that we would feel utterly ridiculous barking instructions at our TV screen, we thoroughly expected to find the gesture and voice controls to be nothing more than gimmicks. But after a few days the UE55ES8000 has won us around - at least where the voice control system is concerned.
There are three main reasons for this. First, the UE55ES8000 has proved remarkably flexible when it comes to recognising voices, handling male, female, child and even fairly heavy dialects with surprisingly little difficulty.
Second, the UE55ES8000’s voice control system has proven able to recognise far more words than we’d have ever dreamt possible - at least from a ‘first-generation’ system. This manifests itself initially in the amount of direct vocal commands you can issue to the TV. After uttering the required ‘trigger word’, the voice control system lets you speak any of a series of ‘direct access’ commands (listed onscreen so you don’t forget them): Smart Hub, Search All, Allshare Play, Family Story, Fitness, Kids Home, Samsung Apps, Your Video, Skype, Web browser, Camera, My Mirror, Current Time and e-Manual.
Even better, if you’ve got the universal remote control functionality set up along with the remote extender that ships with the TV, you can change channels on, say, a Sky receiver box just by speaking the channel number you want!