Clickers for many TVs get much slicker

And with some sets, you don't even need the remote

Consumer Reports magazine: September 2012

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This touchpad device is one of two that come with Panasonic VT50 plasma TVs.

One time-honored tradition of TV watching—combing through your sofa cushions to find the remote—may finally be nearing an end. Rather than fumbling with the buttons, couch potatoes can simply yell or gesture at the TV to control it.

Perhaps the most ambitious effort we’ve seen is Samsung’s Smart Interaction, available in its ES7500 and ES8000 LCD TVs and E8000-series plasmas. They use a built-in microphone and video camera to recognize hand gestures and voice commands; you hardly need the regular remote. The TVs also have face-recognition technology so that you can create individual user profiles.

Once the TV detects a hand motion, you can wave to navigate menus; to make a selection, just clench your fist. Basic voice commands can also be used to turn the TV on and off, open specific apps, and perform basic TV functions. Samsung also includes two remote controls—a fairly standard model and one with a touchpad and built-in microphone for voice commands if you prefer not to yell across the room.

Samsung and some LG TVs let you use your voice to do media and Internet searches. You can also do speech-to-text in any website’s text box when you’re using the Web browser.

LG has pioneered the use of gesture-based TV remotes with its wandlike Magic Motion remote controls, which work a lot like a Nintendo Wii game controller. The latest version, called the Magic Remote, has an integrated scroll wheel plus a built-in microphone for voice commands. You simply point the wand at the TV to move a cursor through onscreen menus, clicking the scroll wheel to make a selection. The wheel can also be used to scroll when browsing, just like a computer mouse, or to scroll through channels.

Panasonic is packing a small, egg-shaped second remote with a large, circular touchpad in the center (shown above) with all of its new VT50 flagship plasma TVs. Using your thumb, you can control a mouselike onscreen cursor to navigate through menus, and even enter text on an onscreen virtual keyboard. To make a selection, you tap the screen or click the small left arrow key at the top of the remote. If you’re just watching TV, the remote includes a few dedicated buttons.

Bottom line. We did get frustrated trying out these new controls in the test lab. It takes awhile to get used to saying, “Hi, TV” to get things started. And waving your hands at the screen can get tiring. The special remotes are helpful for Internet features but for most TV watching, regular remotes work better.

Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Slicker Clickers for TVs."

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