Tagged: TV

CES: Samsung's voice and gesture TVs are here, like 'em or not

Samsung's latest TVs offer helpful hints at the bottom of the screen in case you're not sure which commands you should use.

One of the big draws at this year’s show was Samsung’s demo of their new TV interface which combines voice commands and hand gestures to perform activities like changing the channel or muting the sound. Almost anything you used to only be able to do with the remote, can now be accomplished by speaking to your TV.

Or should I say ‘shouting’?

If Samsung’s demo proved anything to me, it’s that I have no desire to start talking to my gadgets. Or waving my hands at them. Or to do anything else that isn’t a clear improvement on the way I used to do something.

Given that I’m not a big fan of  other voice systems such as Apple’s Siri,  I suspected Samsung would have their work cut out for them in trying to make a convert out of me. Even though Siri and I don’t get along, we understand one another. Actually that’s not exactly true. She understands me some of the time, and I understand why some people think she’s the best thing since sliced bread. That’s because there are plenty of times when you can’t interact with your smartphone with your fingers  – say, when you’re driving.

And even though the woman running Samsung’s demo suggested that there would in fact be times in my life when I wouldn’t be able to reach for the remote, I have yet to find my hands so preoccupied while watching TV that I could spare a digit or two for stabbing at those little buttons.

At least I know that if I hit the ‘channel up’ button, that’s exactly what will happen, barring me pointing the remote at my own belly button and even then it will probably still change the channel.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Samsung’s voice system.

On more than one attempt, our exhausted demo leader had to repeat herself to get the TV’s attention: “HI TV!” (pause) “HI TV!”

To the TV’s credit, when it failed to understand the commands being shouted in its direction, it did not shout back. It politely notified us on-screen that it hadn’t understood and perhaps we would like to use a hand gesture instead.

Yes TV, I would like to use a hand gesture. But I don’t think you’re going to like the one I have in mind.

This new interaction scheme will be available on all new Series 8 and 9 LCD TVs from Samsung later this year. You’ll be pleased to know it can be turned on or off at your discretion and the sets still come with good old fashioned remote controls.

That’s good. You see I already have voice control for our TV. Every day I shout at the kids to turn the thing off and come have dinner.

But just as with Samsung’s system, I usually have to say it more than once.

So readers, are you excited that you’ll soon be able stop asking “where’s the remote?” Or are you are you beginning to have flashbacks to your first viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

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CRTC to make switching broadcast, telco services as easy as one call

image (c) Getty ImagesWhile I’ve never experienced any hassles when switching providers for any of my services, I know that this has not been the case for many Canadians. And clearly that’s the message the CRTC has been receiving, because today they have announced a new process whereby consumers can place a single call to their new provider and from there the new provider will make all the arrangements for the switch, including service cancellation, with the old provider.

In a press release sent out today, Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC said, “In a competitive marketplace, consumers are always encouraged to explore different options for their broadcasting and telecommunications services. The new rules will make the transfer process a seamless and convenient experience, while enabling Canadians to benefit from receiving retention offers from their current providers.”

Along with the new, simpler switch procedure comes new requirements for how long any switches should take: “The CRTC requires that customer transfers be completed within two business days, except for wireless service where transfers must be completed within 2.5 hours.”

2.5 hours? That’s seems like a tall order… we’ll see if that ends up being the reality or not.

The new rules don’t prevent you from doing a regular cancellation, if that’s what you want. In fact, it may arguably be a better way to go about switching, especially if you’re planning to move for pricing reasons. By calling your existing provider to cancel in-person, you’ll likely be offered any number of incentives to stay, which will not happen if you use the “one-call” technique.

The CRTC is warning Canadians that these new procedures do *not* help get you out of any early-cancellation fees that your current provider might charge you depending on the nature of your contract, so don’t be surprised if you get a bill in the mail following the switch-over process.

Finally, near the end of the release, the CRTC mentions that it “has established safeguards to prevent service providers from sharing confidential customer information with their internal sales and marketing groups during the transfer process,” presumably as a way to prevent the old provider from placing calls to the customer in an attempt to lure them back before they leave. Interestingly, the Commission isn’t completely convinced that this decision is in the best interest of consumers and is seeking comments on the issue.

Do you think these changes are good for consumers, or will you still use the cancel-and-switch-yourself technique the next time you decide to move?

Are TV ads too loud? The CRTC thinks so and wants to know if you agree

Nothing makes me reach for the remote control faster than when the barely-audible dialogue of an older show suddenly switches to the overpowering voice-over for a laundry detergent. Sometimes I drop the volume down only to raise it later when the ads come to an end, but mostly I just hit the mute button. Take that, loud, annoying ads. Ugh. There’s got to be a better way.

After years of essentially doing nothing, the CRTC is no longer ignoring an issue that has been a thorn in the side of TV viewers for ages: The sometimes dramatic difference between the volume level of the programme being watched and the commercials that air during the programme.

The commission announced today that they are seeking comment on “possible technical and regulatory measures that would ensure commercials are not perceived to be louder than the programs they accompany.”

“Loud ads on television can disrupt an otherwise enjoyable program and are a source of significant annoyance for Canadians,” said Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC in a press release. “Viewers should not have to adjust the volume at every commercial break, and we will work with the broadcasting industry to find an acceptable solution.”

I can only hope that this isn’t empty rhetoric on the part of the CRTC. Nothing would make me happier than being able to watch TV without constantly riding the volume control, or shelling out big bucks for an after-market solution like Geffen’s Auto Volume Stabilizer.

You would think that there would already be some sort of standard for an issue as widespread as this, and you’d be right: the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) created just such a standard back in November of 2009. The CRTC is well aware of this and is using this standard as the starting point of their public consultation.

As the process evolves, they are hoping to get feedback from all parties on:

  • how broadcasters currently control the loudness of commercials
  • the technical changes, as well as associated costs and practical implications, that would be required to implement the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s recommended practice
  • the appropriate timeframe in which any changes should be implemented
  • possible regulatory changes required to ensure the effective control of the loudness of commercials, and
  • the extent to which technical and regulatory changes are applicable to cable and satellite companies and video-on-demand services.
  • There’s not much time if you want to make your views heard (you may have to shout) – the deadline for submissions is April 18, 2011.

    You have three options for contacting the CRTC and sharing your thoughts:

    Read the full release from the CRTC.

    A Royal Wedding in 3D?

    In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton are seen at St. James's Palace in London, after they announced their engagement. London is a sure bet for crowds around the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file)

    In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton are seen at St. James's Palace in London, after they announced their engagement. London is a sure bet for crowds around the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (c) AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file

    I was recently pitched a story idea by a PR agency on why people should buy a new big-screen TV for the Big Game  – the SuperBowl of course. But unless you’re still watching an old tube-TV that can’t manage HD of any description, your existing HDTV will be just fine for the most-televised sporting event of the year. That’s because – much to my surprise – the event is not being covered in 3D. If someone knows why, please leave a comment below.

    But the same might not be true of another big event that will be gracing our screens later this year: The Royal Wedding of William and Kate, which if the persistent rumours are true, will be broadcast in 3D.

    I know – I can already hear some of you groaning – but a 3D broadcast of the wedding makes a lot of sense. Royal watchers, of which there are plenty here in Canada, go to great lengths to be near the monarchy at these occasions and I know of at least one fan who already has her tickets booked to be there in person. But the majority of people will have to attend virtually. As the National Post has already pointed out, it would be very cool to see a location like Westminster Abbey in 3D.

    Apart from giving monarchists the illicit thrill of “being there”, a 3D wedding broadcast could also help a fledgling industry gather valuable data in the form of viewer feedback on the pros and cons of this type of coverage. With 3D being so new to so many TV stations, there is plenty left to learn. James Cameron is adamant that the only 3D movies worth watching are the ones that were conceived of and executed specifically for the 3D format – anything less doesn’t measure up. If it’s true for movies, it’s probably true for TV too.

    The Royal Wedding could also be a huge boon to television manufacturers. A lack of decent 3D content has long been cited as one the primary reasons why consumers have been slow to adopt 3D at home – though frankly I think there are many other factors at play. But if that is what has kept people from jumping on the bandwagon, I can’t think of many televised events – with the exception of the usual sports biggies (World Cup Soccer, SuperBowl and the Olympics) – that would beat a Royal Wedding for driving people into their local electronics retailer.

    Interestingly, if the wedding does go all Avatar on us, there’s the possibility it will be shown in 3D-capable movie theatres for those who don’t own 3D TVs. With a projected audience of over a billion viewers, TV makers won’t be the only ones profiting from this event.

    What do you think readers? Is a 3D broadcast of the wedding a good idea? If you don’t own a 3D TV, would this be a good enough reason to buy one? Let us know.

    Update Feb 18: According to RoyalWeddingBlog.ca, the young couple have formally rejected the idea of 3D coverage for their wedding citing concerns about how much technology would need to be present at the event to make it happen.

    Samsung: Smart TVs get a lot smarter at CES

    Samsung's Smart TV and Smart Hub featured at CESThe age of the connected TV is here and it will take the humble television and turn it into much more than a screen for watching video. Every manufacturer is now shipping or has plans to ship models that will let you do everything from streaming videos to video calling and almost everything in-between. Samsung’s Smart TVs are a great example of how rapidly this technology is evolving. My guess is that those of us who migrated away from the TV to start using the internet for our entertainment will now be coming back to the big screen… and loving it.

    Finally an end to loud commercials

    GefenTV Auto Volume Stabilizer
    GefenTV Auto Volume Stabilizer

    What’s more annoying than commercials? I’ll tell you. It’s commercials that jump on to your TV screen at what seems like twice the volume of the show you were just watching. Depending on the volume level of the program, the difference can be so abrupt that you instinctively reach for your remote’s mute button because dialing-down the volume can’t deal with the deafening roar fast enough.

    I might actually watch more commercials were it not for the intrusiveness of this volume change. Well, maybe not – these days we tend to watch more PVR’d content than ever and that 30-second skip button is the most worn out on the whole remote… I just love it.

    But if you don’t have a PVR (and if not, why the heck not?) or for those times when watching live TV is only way to go (sports events, award shows, news programs etc.) you’re just going to have to live with that annoying volume problem.

    Or maybe not.

    gtv-volcont-backIf you happen to have $179 USD burning a hole in your pocket and you are fed up with those obnoxiously loud ads, Gefen has the solution for you. Their GefenTV Auto Volume Stabilizer is a small device that sits with the rest of your TV gear and serves as a middle-man between your source (likely a cable or satellite box) and your audio receiver. It can handle 3 types of input – digital coax, optical, or good-ol-analog RCA. The same obviously, are available as outputs. You can select which of these inputs will be in use via a handy remote (yes, another remote), but only one at a time. When turned on, the Stabilizer does one thing and one thing only – manages all those highs and lows in volume level so that you aren’t constantly reaching for the remote.

    If you use the device in conjunction with a Blu-ray player or other source and find that the auto-leveling isn’t required, you can easily disable it with the built-in “bypass” switch.
    I haven’t tried the Stabilizer myself yet so I can’t speak to how effective it is, but at $179 it had better work exactly as advertised or Gefen will have some pretty grumpy customers on their hands.

    But whether you like the idea of the Stabilizer or not, the real question is this: Why is there even a need for such a device?

    My plea to the cable and satellite companies: Make this product redundant by implementing similar technology at your head-ends, so that the signal you’re sending to your subscribers is already pre-leveled. We’ve got HD, we’ve got 5.1 surround sound, even on-demand where it’s available, so why not good clean and leveled volume for all of TV you choose to watch? Gefen may not thank you, but we will.

    The big 3D question: Should you buy now?

    Sony 3DTV KidsThe situation is all too familiar: a new format or technology has emerged, promising a game-changing entertainment experience and you are left wondering when or even if you should jump on the bandwagon.

    CDs, DVDs, HDTV (in both 720 and 1080p flavours) are all examples of formats that wooed consumers and after a short introductory period quickly grew to mass-market proportions. More recently, but with less success so far than the other technologies, Blu-ray has been making in-roads helped largely by falling prices.

    Now 3D is calling your name, with many of the big names announcing retail availability of compatible TVs and Blu-ray players this year, with the U.S. already selling packages.

    Here in Canada, starting March 26, 2010, Samsung 3D TVs, accessories and movies will be available at Future Shop’s 144 stores.

    If you’re an early-adopter, you’ve already decided you’re on board with 3D and are patiently awaiting the first reviews to emerge so that you make the best purchasing decision.

    But for everyone else, here’s some advice.

    Be patient. The first products on the market will be the most expensive, and the least sophisticated. As with any technology, each revision will bring improvements and price reductions. If you need another reason to wait, consider the availability of content. Only a handful of compatible movies will be available this year, and so far neither cable nor satellite has made any announcements concerning 3D support in Canada. It will of course be coming soon, but do you really want to make a decision without knowing the price?

    Demo the experience. Recently, I had the chance to experience Sony’s 3D TV for myself at the Sony Store in downtown Toronto, in the Eaton’s Centre. They showed us 3D gaming, and some 3D sports footage. It was fun, no question. Sony’s 3D is very convincing, creating the impression that the TV screen was actually a window through which you could see the action taking place. Unlike some other implementations of 3D that I’ve seen, the emphasis was on creating as sense of depth, rather than height (very few objects appeared to ‘pop out’ of the TV). The required active-shutter glasses were comfortable but the demo was only 10 minutes – it’s hard to say if they would be okay for a 3-hour movie. By way of comparison, they are heavier than the 3D glasses you get at theatres, but also a better fit.

    I also noticed that the combination of the 3D display and the glasses resulted in a somewhat washed-out image. Perhaps this effect is more pronounced for some people than others – similar in nature to the rainbow-effect reported by some viewers of rear-projection DLP TVs. Or it might be fundamental to the technology as it exists today. Either way, images on the 3D TV did not feel as bright, rich or vivid as comparable non-3D sets. The point here is that you really need to see 3D for yourself to decide if lives up to your expectations.

    Be realistic about your viewing habits. Even though 3D TVs like the Sony model will be able to perform a kind of up-conversion on regular 2D to 3D (sort of like the simulated surround sound that some two-speaker audio systems can achieve via clever modulation of the sound), can you see yourself wanting to watch 3D for casual viewing? Remember, that with 3D, you must be wearing the glasses, otherwise the screen will look like a very fuzzy and confusing series of overlapped images. So if someone in the room is watching in 3D, everyone else needs to wear the glasses too – even if they are engaging in another activity like surfing the web or folding laundry. Will they want to wear the glasses while doing that? The question is whether you want to spend a lot of extra money on a feature you won’t be using *most* of the time. Unlike HD, I don’t think 3D is going to become a must-have feature. Now that I have HD, I intentionally seek HD programming – I really would prefer to watch nothing else if I have the choice – it’s just that much better than SD. My guess is that 3D will remain event-driven for the vast majority of viewers – they’ll use it for the occasional movie, game or sporting event, but that’s it.

    Stay informed. As the top-tier review sites and publications get their hands on the new batch of gear, they’ll have some great insights into this technology. For instance, now that LCD and plasma are delivering very similar results in the 2D world, will this parity remain in the 3D landscape or will one technology emerge superior? Only time will tell. We’ll do our best to make sure you’re up on the latest resources :-)

    What has happened to OLED TV?

    Samsung OLED TVThere’s no question about it, the last few years have been the most exciting for TV viewers since the transition from black & white to colour.

    In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve gone from standard definition to high definition, from taping shows on VHS to recording them with PVRs, from stereo (or HiFi) to 5.1 surround sound and from a rigid TV schedule to an on-demand and time-shifted choice of nearly every show imaginable.

    But the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in the last few years (that didn’t strike me as a fad or worthless add-on) was the demonstration of Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) technology in large displays. I’ve always felt that better realism and authenticity should be the goal of TV’s evolution, and OLED is a dramatic step forward on this path. OLED TVs boast richer, more vivid colours than either LCD (CCFL or LED back-lit models) or plasma. When combined with full HD 1080p resolution, the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

    So I was a little non-plussed to see that at this year’s CES, there was not a plethora of OLED displays that graced the booths of the major TV manufacturers. Instead, it was 3D-capable TVs that stole the show after having been only a minor presence at last year’s show and virtually non-existent prior to that.

    Now I know that some people are really jazzed about 3D for the home, and I admit that – when well executed – 3D is an exciting experience that can genuinely enhance an event like a movie or a sports broadcast. But let’s take a second look at 3D before crowning it the new king of TV land:

    • Despite the promise of 3D sets that can convert 2D content into 3D on the fly, for now, the 3D experience will be severely limited by a lack of content
    • 3D TVs require a 3D source, which for now is strictly limited to Blu-ray media since 3D broadcasts are likely years away (more on this in another post)
    • As cool as it will no doubt be to watch James Cameron’s Avatar as it is meant to be seen when it is ultimately released on disc, just how much of your TV-watching time will be in 3D? I just can’t see people rummaging around their couch cushions to find their 3D glasses to view that re-run of Seinfeld or Friends or the evening news

    So why is the consumer electronics industry so hell-bent on the 3D experience, when OLED technology makes every type of TV content better? As a side-note, it also saves on energy: OLED displays are far more efficient than plasma and even LED-back-lit LCD TVs.

    I suspect it comes down to two factors: Technological hurdles and the Politics of Profit.

    OLED is still very new as a large format display technology even though it has been under development for more than a decade. It has shown up in plenty of devices like cellphones and portable media players that use small (3″ or less) displays, but it seems the cost and complexity of OLED increases exponentially the larger the display (this is not much different than LCD which for a very long time could not be produced in sizes larger than 40″ without dramatic costs being incurred).

    Then there’s the issue of the halo-effect – the number of collateral products that a new technology can spur. In the case of OLED, you’re just contemplating the purchase of a new TV. 3D on the other hand means a new TV, new Blu-ray player, new 3D Blu-ray movies, 3D glasses, and ultimately a new 3D-capable set-top box for your satellite or cable subscription. Given that companies like Sony have their hands in almost every bucket of the entertainment business, 3D is a no-brainer: it’s a profit power-house. If things pan out the way they hope, their 3D product road map will take them well into this decade if not beyond.

    Does all this mean the end of the line for OLED? I think not.

    Watch the video below. It gives you a tantalizing taste of just how amazing and versatile OLED tech really is. From transparent-medium displays to super-efficient and flexible lighting, OLED clearly has (ahem) bright future. And we may still see it make its way into our living rooms once the 3D tsunami has washed over us and companies like Samsung and Sony start looking for the next way to improve the TV experience. It may just be that OLED has simply been re-prioritized while LCD and plasma enjoy a last round of improvements before they are finally retired for good. Here’s hoping.

    For more CES coverage including videos, check out our CES Section.

    ESPN to Launch 3D Network in 2010

    3DTV_studyAccording to industry publication Broadcasting and Cable, ESPN’s plans

    “will feature a minimum of 85 live sporting events in its first year, starting with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match on June 11 featuring South Africa vs. Mexico. Other events to be produced in 3D include up to 25 2010 FIFA World Cup matches, Summer X Games, college basketball, and college football, which will include the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz., January 10, 2011.”

    Although no announcements have been made regarding which cable or satellite companies will be offering the new network, ESPN’s move into the 3D space is a major milestone in the development of this still nascent technology for the home.

    With the recent standardization of 3D content on the Blu-ray hi-def format, and TV manufacturers of all stripes promising 3D-capable HDTVs in 2010, the last major hurdle in the in-home 3D experience is broadcast content. ESPN’s move, while not necessarily an indicator of what all the networks will do, signals that broadcasters are ready to embrace 3D.

    The question that remains however, is what will this new format cost the consumer?

    We know why TV manufacturers are pushing 3D: they need to drive the demand for the next wave of purchases now that the penetration of HDTVs is close to hitting 50% in the U.S. But studies show that only 25% consumers are willing to pay more for 3D in the home. However 67% said they’d pay more for a 3D Blu-ray disc compared to the 2D version.

    That’s good news for the movie industry, which already understands the value of 3D: they have been rewarded by their investment as box office receipts for movies like James Cameron’s Avatar clearly demonstrate – it raked in $1 billion worldwide in its first 17 days of theatrical release. If Hollywood can squeeze a second layer of revenue from their 3D titles in the form of 3D Blu-ray discs as they have always managed to do with VHS and then DVD, their costs will be further justified.

    But what’s in it for broadcasters?

    Perhaps they hope that a new offering of content in 3D will help stem the tide of viewers who are increasingly drawn to the net for their video needs. In an era of YouTube, the need to differentiate TV from web is critical, and the advent of HD hasn’t proven to be a big enough lure so far: according to DisplaySearch, only two thirds (67%) of people who own an HDTV subscribe to HD content from their provider.

    Alternatively, 3D channels may only be available as pay-per-view or premium upgrades to existing cable/satellite.

    If the broadcasters do start to get their 3D acts together, our friends over at TVGuide.ca have the following advice: 10 TV Shows We Want To See In 3D

    Now the question for you, our readers: Where are you on the 3D @ home curve? Super-excited? Mildly interested? Couldn’t care less?