High end TVs have come with voice control for years now. Pressing the microphone button on the remote and issuing commands to change channel or adjust the volume was novel, but not that useful. The remote is already in your hand, so why not just press the button you want instead?
It felt like a gimmick, but now Amazon and Google are putting their considerable wealth and knowhow into making voice control a truly useful way to use the devices in your home. It looks as though TVs are a natural fit.
Samsung’s 4K range now come with Bixby, Samsung’s version of Alexa and Google Assistant. LG has it’s own system, too, known as ThinQ. Sony, which already partners with Google to use its Android TV smart platform, is using Google Assistant on its 2018 TVs. Panasonic is the exception – it hasn’t been as vocal about TVs auditory abilities because it doesn’t have any – not even on its its high end OLEDs.
So what’s different about the current crop of TVs that means voice control has gone from a gimmicky novelty to a handy feature?
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Bixby on Samsung TVs: what can it do?
Samsung’s 4K TVs are split between its QLED range and its standard LCD 4K sets. There are slight differences between the way these two sets of TVs create the images on screen, but they all share the same voice assistant. Bixby started out in Samsung’s Galaxy phones and moved into its TVs for the first time in 2018.
Samsung’s high end One Remotes are spartan to say the least. It has very few buttons and you often need to press the same one multiple times to access certain menus and features. This makes voice control particularly useful since you can forego figuring out what buttons you need to press. The basic functions of the TV, such as selecting different inputs and pausing whatever you’re watching, can be done with your voice, but it’s the more advanced commands that highlight how useful voice control can be.
Searching is by far the most interesting. You can ask your TV to check if your favourite show is currently playing, or available through a streaming app. If what you want to watch is available on Netflix, or another service, then the TV will tell you. If it’s currently airing on a channel you can access, then the TV will tell you that, too. Typing the name of show with a remote on an onscreen keyboard is a lengthy, awkward process that voice search all but eliminates. And if you don’t know exactly what you want, you can simply ask your TV to search for horror films or thrillers and it will present you with a list of available content.
Bixby does more than assist you with your TV. It can search the internet for you, tell you what the weather will be like and control smart devices in your home.
ThinQ on LG TVs: how useful is it?
Like Bixby, ThinQ really comes into its own when you use it to search. You can seek out specific shows and movies, or even ask to see everything that’s available on your TV starring a certain actor or from your favourite Director. The TV will scour all your streaming apps, the electronic programme guide, YouTube and the internet for results.
Your searches can be pretty general. You could ask to see a yoga video, or a funny cats compilation and the TV will understand what you mean and present a range of options.
All of LG’s 2018 TVs have ThinQ, from the supremely expensive W8 Signature OLED all the way to 32-inch full-HD 32LK6100PLB, but not all the TVs come with the remote you need. LG’s Magic Remote costs around £35 and has a built-in microphone as well as a motion controlled pointer, which makes it easier to select things on the screen.
Google Assistant on Sony TVs: is it the best option?
Google Assistant in Sony TVs works in much the same way as it does in a Google Home. You’ll be able to control the same smart devices (Sony says its TVs will be compatible with more than 1,500) and search the internet for answers to questions, convert measurements and check the weather for the week ahead. There are TV specific voice commands layered on top, too.
As with Bixby and ThinQ, you’ll be able to search for specific shows and movies. Ask to watch Stranger Things on Netflix and it will bring it up for you.
Google Assistant isn’t available on Sony’s entire 2018 range. The AF8 OLED, XF90, XF85, XF80 and XF75 series TVs are the only compatible models for the moment.