Talking to the TV certainly feels novel, and the announcement at Berlin’s IFA conference that Toshiba is adding Amazon’s Alexa into its OLED, 4K HDR, and Full HD TV ranges absolutely plays into Toshiba’s goal to make the TV the entertainment center of the home once more.
From 2019, Toshiba’s TV ranges will have Amazon Alexa built-in. With access to Amazon’s voice-activated assistant, the range will be able to deliver a wide range of features, some unique to the Smart TV, but also as part of Alexa’s wider skillset.
As of yet, Toshiba has not divulged an official release date for Alexa integration, but the technology will be available from 2019.
Currently, Toshiba’s 65-inch OLED 4KHD TV retails for around USD 3900 (£3000/AUD 5300), while its 65-inch LED TV is considerably cheaper at around USD 900 (£700/AUD 1250) – one will have to wait until at least January if one wants to experience the Alexa integration however.
The ultra HD 4K OLED TVs has stunningly clear display with an extremely thin, wall-mounted monitor, making it a fantastic choice for anyone short of space.
With super-thin edges, the TV offers completely distraction-free viewing away from any intrusive borders as well as making a cool, futuristic looking focal point for your living area. Colors were vivid, with brilliant contrast and picture clarity, making it an absolute joy to watch.
The TV has a slim, silver stand, which looks really sleek and stylish. However the stand is quite narrow compared to the rest of the monitor, making it appear precariously.
When using the integrated Alexa feature for things like news and weather updates, the information comes up on a darker panel on the right-hand side of the screen, meaning that it does not impede on whatever one is watching while still being clear enough to read easily from the couch.
This side panel does disappear rather quickly however, so if you are trying to read information that Alexa has generated, you may find yourself having to ask for it multiple times just so you can finish reading and this could be particularly troublesome for slower readers and people with bad eyesight.
Alexa, change the channel
The far-field microphone was pretty adept at picking up the voices from across the room, although sometimes repetition is needed. This was probably because of the Messe IFA is based in being so large. Alexa did have trouble picking up our voices when the TV was at a high volume, though, meaning it could benefit from a more powerful microphone.
Alexa responded to a number of different accents and it did not have any trouble recognizing the commands, making it nice and accessible for those with regional accents.
Eliminating the remote control was definitely a novelty, and simple commands like Alexa, turn the volume up were handled seamlessly. However, when we asked Alexa to change the channel, it did not understand the command, so it may be that you would need to familiarize yourself with the specific phrases it’s been taught to respond to.
As exciting as it is to tell the TV what to do, the need for a remote control becomes apparent as soon as you want to see what is on across all channels and scroll through them – so it is probably not a good idea to throw away your remote control just yet.
As well as TV-based features, Toshiba’s range of Alexa-enabled TVs will have access to Alexa’s entire skillset, meaning you can look up the weather, play music, and launch apps. We tested some of its pop culture knowledge by asking ‘Who is Michael Jackson?’
This brought up a neat little Wikipedia-style entry to the side of the screen, which is pretty handy if you ever need to settle couch side arguments about the age/marital status/nationality of different celebrities.
The future of TV
Being able to talk to your TV is exciting for even the most jaded of tech experts, and using Toshiba’s Alexa-enabled OLED TV has really given us a glimpse into what the future of home entertainment will likely look like in a few years.
Still, there are a few issues with the technology which means it is not the most seamless voice activated product we have seen before. Although Alexa appears to understand a number of different accents and languages, you still need to have a degree of specificity when making commands.
This is a problem with Alexa, and the wider world of voice-activated assistants rather than the TV itself, and as AI allows Alexa to learn as time goes on, we imagine that it will soon be able to understand more natural speech.
While it is novel to not have to use a remote control, there is something to be said for the tactile nature of skipping through channels and feeling the buttons as you change the volume on your monitor – whether the general public will completely forgo the remote control in the near future is questionable, but it does seem to be the way televisions are heading.
Onscreen answers to commands should have remained onscreen for longer – it seems as though most people would struggle to take in information fully in just a few seconds.
Hopefully in the future Toshiba will allow users to adjust how long information appears at the side of the screen, making it adaptable for anyone who needs a little longer to read.
However, we loved the novelty of asking your TV a question and having it respond via image and text, and could see how helpful this could be – how many times have you watched the news or a documentary and had to pause to look at your phone, frantically searching for information on the subject?
If Toshiba originally set out to make the TV the center of the home once more, it feels like they have succeeded with this integration.
Being able to make commands, ask questions, and launch apps without using an external device is quite liberating, and it encourages you to step away from the smartphone while watching your favorite show.
Whether swapping one screen for another is a good thing is yet to be determined, but 30 minutes away from social media temptation never did anyone any harm. – Techradar