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March 24th 2014 12:27 pm

Does the remote control really need to die?

A recent post[1] on the website Read Write Web discusses the remote control, and how the author feels it needs to "die." Over the course of the article, there are points made with regards to the current implementations of remote controls and their pitfalls, including:
  • Rather than evolve with televisions, remotes just got bulkier
  • Navigating endless amount of channels is cumbersome due excessive button pressing
The author goes on to praise devices like AppleTV, Roku and Chromecast for creating simpler remotes while offering more complex viewing options.

One suggestion for making this better? Touchscreen devices and voice controls. The idea is that swiping and voice commands can allow for users to more easily get through the cumbersome menus that accompany most TVs. Additionally, these would allow for users to more easily search for shows or enter their email address for services, since a smartphone or tablet there would have a full keyboard available.

While I agree that remote controls need an overhaul, they're not at fault here. The author points out to issues with cable providers' EPGs (electronic program guide) for all his frustrations, while simultaneously praising something like the Xbox One; admittedly I have not used an Xbox One yet, but if the dashboard is anything like the 360 I wouldn't call it simple.

The issue does not lie in the remote control; it lies in the cumbersome and terribly dated software that cable company providers are delivering to our set-top boxes. Switching to a new way of interacting via smartphone or voice commands wont solve the issue of navigating STBs.

Additionally, blaming the need to enter email addresses on remotes is not entirely correct, the blame should go to the service provider. HBO GO and MLB.tv are two services I can think of that allow activation via codes, meanwhile I've lost count of the ones who haven't implemented this in their activation process.

Remotes do need a change, but before we can begin to build better and smarter remote interactions we need to address the real issues at hand: complex EPGs, cumbersome registration processes and the overall complexity of media players.

[1] readwrite.com­/2014­/03­/20­/remote­-control­-dead­-smart...

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8 replies

Frank: Here is a great video I watched a while back with regards to Xbox One and TV. This guy has even cut cable and got things to work. You may find it interesting. https:­/­/www.youtube.com­/watch­?v­=zny7iu­_hDXU­#t­=258

Earlier in the video (I gave you a link right before the voice commands) he uses a Microsoft surface as a remote and it doesn't look terribly cumbersome, but his setup is a bit more advanced.
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This is an interesting look, but one thing I noticed right away: completely silent room. Add in other noises from kids, pets, family members, etc and it might not be as enjoyable of an experience.

I skipped back to look at the use of the Surface, and Microsoft kind of has this already with SmartGlass. The issue here is that works great with Xbox One/360 but what about the TV or other devices?
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This has been really bothering me lately. There's so much push towards using our phones, voices, and arms to control our TVs that it seems the industry has developed a bit of an addiction for it. They aren't stopping to think "is this actually better?"

I have had full touch screen universal remotes for a decade, ever since the Philips Pronto TS1000. To this day I still use a Pronto NG (technically the TSU3000) for certain tasks in my home theater.

But you know what? A touchscreen remote sucks! And it sucks for a very obvious reason: you have to look at the screen.

The fact of the matter is that when I'm watching TV I want to watch TV. I don't want to look down at my phone to make sure I hit the fast forward button instead of one of the four buttons near it.

Lets say I'm fast forwarding through a commercial break on my Tivo. I see that I'm back to the program, but by the time I look down at my screen to make sure I'm hitting the play button, I'm already way into the show and I have to go back. It's just a dumb interface mechanic. I like that when it's dark and I'm watching a movie or a TV show, I can just hold the remote and know where all the buttons are without looking.

I don't know, maybe I'm starting to fall into a generational range, and the trend will be towards all-touchscreen control of equipment going forward.

I've used a TON of different remotes. I've tried half of the Logitech models, three or four Prontos (before they were discontinued), and down to some cheapo Sony programmable universals. To this day my favorite remote of all time is the Tivo Slide. IMO, it's perfect. For 99% of the time I need to use it, I hold it like a standard remote, where I'm easily able to find the transport controls and the volume buttons (which is, after all, what I need 99% of the time). For that 1% where I need to enter some text (finding shows to record, for example), I can slide the face of the remote over and I have a full keyboard. I've never used a remote I like better.
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I wonder if the push happening because there is such a strong social trend to TV now. Friends get together to watch the latest shows while all sitting on their phones to tweet things out, so there is the notion that you shouldn't need to clutter your living room.

Relying on phones also doesn't solve the issue of multiple people using the living room. What if someone is coming to watch your kids or pets, now you need to make sure they're properly set-up on their smartphone?

The fact remains though, voice or gesture based navigating wont solve the issue of cumbersome and idiotic menu structures. My favorite feature on the Roku is universal search, yet my set-top box doesn't offer the same flexibility.
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I think you're right about the social aspect, and I hate that. I'm going to sound like a crotchety old man now: I don't believe you can fully appreciate a show if you're tweeting about it the whole time.

That isn't to say there isn't TV programming where it doesn't matter whether your full attention is on the show. Some, like reality competition shows, actually want you to be tweeting about it so you create buzz. But I just don't think it's possible to watch some shows and be able to fully absorb them.
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I fully agree on the "multiple people in the house" problem. I love the idea of the Chromecast, but it has that problem.

There's a related issue that's been bothering me lately, and that's wireless network security. I have a guest network in my home that separates the devices on my system from my guests but still allows them to access the web. Should I just abandon my network security so I can let guests sling things to my Chromecast or one of the other many devices that are promoting social functions?
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I totally agree with you. One other fact overlooked is: the original device remotes will operate on the same battery for years.
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I'm sticking with the remotes that come with the devices. Leave the remotes on the table in the room with the respective devices; it's within reach, easy to operate, and no learning curve. I have a household of 6 and a sleuth of electronic devices: Game consoles from Nintendo, Microsoft, & Sony; tablets and smartphones with OS from Apple, Android, & Microsoft; stereo systems Pansonic, Sony, Vizio, Yamaha; Plasma, LCD & LED TVs from Sony, Zenith, LG, Syntax, Sharp, Westinghouse, & god know what brand. Good luck with trying to integrate all of them. I'm not going to pay hundreds of dollars for extra fancy remotes to do what simple remotes already do best. If you have a small household with less electronics, then it would make sense.
Forget all the touch do-dads and fancy voice command stuff. I had to constantly clean my kids touchscreen is not fun. Voice commands requires the kids having to yell from more than 10 feet away is not fun.
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