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Say goodbye to your remote.
During a test using the Dish Hopper 3 with Amazon Alexa, at CES 2017, it became obvious to me that all of the buttons and settings on our TVs, as well as the adjustments and tweaks we make to our televisions to watch movies and sports, will be going away soon. The satellite provider is a mainstay at my house, and for millions of other viewers, but finding that one Tom Hanks movie from 2007 can be a challenge at times. Amazon Alexa is here to help, or at least will be in a future update.
For my demo, I asked if I could be the one to ask the questions. To be honest, this makes some public relations professionals a little nervous, but Dish reps were open to the idea. At this stage, with the Alexa skill in development and not fully operational, you can say key phrases like “find me” and other prompts to change the channel. I first asked Alexa to change to ESPN, and it worked surprisingly fast — faster than typing in the numbers. As an aside, this is an important aspect of voice control. If it isn’t as fast as basic services, it is not as helpful, because you have to find the remote or memorize channel numbers anyway. If voice is only for complex tasks, we might not use it often, since we tend to want an all-or-nothing answer when it comes to media.
Next, I asked Alexa to find all of the Tom Hanks movies available. Again, it was speedy. About a dozen movies filled the screen. I asked Alexa to play Scully, and it worked immediately. The reason this is really important for most TV watchers is that Dish is not a set-top box like Roku or the NVIDIA Shield TV. In my test, the service was activated for all channels, so you have a much larger data set than only the streaming movies available on the Vudu app, for example. Searching with Google on the Shield produces somewhat acceptable results, but it’s not like that service is searching through all of the live shows, sporting events, extensive movie archives, every reality television show in existence, and countless other live shows.
Also, this is where the idea of a bot can help in the living room. While I was playing the movie Scully, I asked Alexa about the rating for the movie. I also tried to order a DVD player. You can control the television by voice, but you also have an assistant who can do many other things. The Google search on Shield TV is only a media search tool you control by voice.
I was impressed enough to want to test the real service when it debuts sometime this year. My plan is to be able to easily find movies based on rating, search through archives of science fiction movies, do comparison by voice, find all of the movies starring one specific actor — basically, have Alexa become an all-purpose entertainment assistant.
We’ll see if it’s helpful, or if it’s still easier to use the remote.