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This is just the start, though. For the TV’s ability to recognise sounds rather than just common words means you can say pretty much any words or phrases into online search engines. Inevitably the system isn’t foolproof, but so long as we were reasonably precise with our diction, the TV recognised most things from ‘how to cook an egg’ through to ‘Fabio Capello’.
The third thing that makes the UE55ES8000’s voice control system a surprise hit is that it’s only very rarely triggered ‘accidentally’ by general ambient noise or conversation. The reason for this is that the system is only called into play by a special keyword - Hi TV, in our case. Until it hears that, it stays hidden away in the background.
In fact, only four times in three days of extensive use did the voice control menu accidentally appear. On each occasion we were watching action scenes at the time, which seemed to cause the system to become concerned that there was too much ambient noise around for it to be able to hear our commands properly. With this in mind you might want to turn the system off when having a serious action movie viewing session. But for the vast majority of the time - and much to our surprise - we found we preferred to leave the system switched on. And once we’d used it a few times, we also found ourselves much less embarrassed to be talking to our tellies than expected.
While the voice control system might be an unexpected success, though, the gesture control system turns out to be a more predictable - if honourable - failure.
The way it works is pretty much as you would expect. The camera built into the top of the TV detects your hand, and tracks its motion to move a hand cursor on the screen. And you close your hand to ‘select’ a part of the screen once you’ve navigated the hand cursor to it.
However, we found a number of problems with the system. First, even though we found the camera in the UE55ES8000 to be of a surprisingly good quality, it only works if your room is quite bright. In fact, it still failed to register any hand activity even with all the spotlights in our office turned right up, only becoming functional once we’d also opened all of our curtains. This is hardly conducive to the sort of environment AV enthusiasts usually like to watch their TVs in.
Even once we’d got the system working, we found it really difficult to achieve the sort of sometimes small movements of the ‘hand’ cursor needed to select specific parts of the screen, like ‘text input boxes’ in the TV’s Web browser.
This issue, together with the fact that we found the system only worked with much accuracy if we held our hand clearly away from our face and body, means that using the gesture control system actually becomes quite tiring on your arms quite quickly.
Another problem with the gesture control system is that during our tests it popped up uninvited a few too many times for comfort. The main reason for this appeared to be that it kept mistaking movements of our head for ‘wake up’ hand gestures. Annoying.
Finally in the negative column, while we got surprisingly used to speaking to the UE55ES8000, we never really felt comfortable - as in, non-stupid! - waving our hands around at our TV.
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