Talk to the Tube: Will Voice-Enabled TV Catch On?

Lots of us scream at the TV (see: the recent presidential debates, major sporting events). Soon we’ll have to be more polite -- because now the televisions will actually start listening.

You will be able to literally ask your TV, set-top or smartphone: “What’s on TV tonight?” and get personalized results, delivered instantly. Or you might request something more specific, like, “When do the Knicks play next?”

AT&T has taken a first step in this area, with a remote-control app it debuted in September that lets U-verse TV subscribers change the channel and perform other commands by speaking (see Talk To Your TV: AT&T Voice-Enables U-verse Remote-Control App). Microsoft’s Kinect attachment for Xbox 360 also provides voice commands.

Now Google is getting in the game. The next update for its Google TV platform, coming to compatible LG HDTVs this week, will add the ability for a user to speak the title of a TV show, movie or YouTube clip to start watching it, or open applications, launch websites or do a Google search, according to a company blog post.

Will TV viewers start chatting up their sets? I’d bet on it -- if for no other reason because it’s a pain in the neck to punch in search terms on a remote control.

Plus, the next generation of voice-activated TV technologies will be even smarter.

Apple’s Siri feature, introduced in the iPhone 4S, spawned a rush in the TV business (and other industries) after showing what was possible by marrying voice recognition with advanced natural-language processing.

Veveo, a provider of predictive-search technologies for pay TV and mobile devices, is introducing integrated voice and natural-language capabilities for television and video search, discovery and navigation. The company isn’t alone: Other vendors working on voice-enabled TV search include Rovi, Jinni and ActiveVideo Networks.

A voice interface for TV just makes sense given the amount of content available through pay-TV services today, says Veveo chief marketing officer Sam Vasisht.

“The television ecosystem has gotten so complicated, with so much programming, people can’t find what they want,” he says. “You will just talk to your TV the way you talk to a person.”

The Andover, Mass.-based company says its search technology already powers 45 million set-tops in the U.S. and Canada, with customers that include Comcast, DirecTV, Cablevision Systems and Rogers. (Verizon FiOS, one of Veveo’s initial deployments, is a licensee of the company’s patents.)

Veveo’s voice-interface solutions will be commercially available as part of its Reveal 3.0 product launch targeted for early 2013. It can work with any voice-recognition engine, according to Vasisht, including those from Nuance (which powers Siri), Google, AT&T and Microsoft.

A video demo of Veveo’s voice-search interface is available here:

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