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Smart TV remote - Who's works and who's doesn't

Tom Morgan
6 Sep 2012
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The growth of Smart TV has forced manufacturers to rethink the humble remote – but who’s on the right track, and why is it so difficult to get right?

With such a long way to go for perfect voice and motion control, you would expect manufacturers to be concentrating on smaller issues, such as an effective way to control an on-screen cursor. LG’s Magic Motion remote is perhaps the most recognisable, and Panasonic has its own touchpad-based design, but neither are perfect.

As its name suggests, the Magic Motion looks more like something from the halls of a 21st century Hogwarts than a remote control. It’s thin, long and obscure-looking enough to confuse your grandparents, who just want to watch Diagnosis Murder but “can’t find the TV remote”.

Remote controls

LG Magic Motion - great for mouse control, but hopeless for text entry

With the Magic Motion, LG TV owners have fairly accurate mouse cursor control as long as they maintain a line of sight with the TV. Break the connection or point away from the set and you lose control, which can make selecting icons at the edge of the screen a particularly frustrating experience.

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Panasonic touchpad remote - flawed by design?

Meanwhile, the Panasonic and Samsung touchpad remote designs are thwarted by the way we use remote controls. Unlike a laptop touchpad, which you control with a finger, you use your thumb to operate a TV remote. For the most part this shouldn’t be a problem, but you run into issues when scrolling upwards. This motion causes the point of touch to change from the tip to the ball of the thumb, confusing the remote and moving the cursor on-screen. This kind of inconsistency is irritating to the user, particularly when it happens a lot.

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Sony's first attempt at a smart TV remote was abysmal...

Sony had real trouble settling on a remote design for its first Google TV box, to the point that the European launch was delayed while a second controller was manufactured. The first, more traditional, remote had a physical keyboard that’s pretty much essential for interacting with Google’s TV interface, but it only had a directional keypad rather than any natural way to control a mouse cursor. The keyboard was also far too small, laid out in a grid that was unnatural to type on and had a lot of superfluous buttons that made it confusing to use.

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...things improved with the second version, but it still had problems

The second attempt was an improvement, returning to a more traditional shape and moving the keyboard to the rear and disabling it using an accelerometer when it wasn't required. However, the front-facing touchpad suffers from the same problem as Panasonic’s design – it simply can’t handle the changing touch points that occur when navigating using your thumb.

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