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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?

THE FUTURE

Having spotted where things can go wrong, we can now turn our attention to how to do it correctly. At this year’s IFA trade show in Berlin, we think we found one company that’s managed to do the impossible – create the first remote control ideally suited to the Smart TV age. Philips, the company behind it, is quietly proud of its design, but we think it’s easily the best TV remote we’ve come across.

Philips remote front

From the front, it looks like any other remote control...

Shaped like any other remote control, there can’t be any confusion as to how it operates – all the standard buttons are there, with only a few more advanced functions grouped well out of reach of the simple directional keypad. At a glance it can be difficult to spot how it’s ideally suited for Smart TVs, but dig a little deeper and the answers are obvious.

First, it solves the problem of text entry. Simple solutions are often the best, and a physical keyboard is surely the simplest – it’s something everyone is already familiar with, so they already know how it works, with no need to learn voice commands or motion gestures. Flipping the remote over reveals a physical keyboard that negates the need for a virtual one.

Philips remote back

...but flip it over and it's perfect for text entry

The keyboard has been split into two sections – not to make room for the batteries, but to make it possible to type with both thumbs regardless of the size of your hands. Larger keys that stretched across the whole remote would have been less than comfortable for some and borderline unusable for others, but in this configuration anyone will be able to use it comfortably.

Flipping over the remote takes less than a second, but it wouldn’t be particularly useful if you accidentally pressed the buttons on the reverse every time you did it – one slip and you could turn off the TV during a crucial plot point or the closing seconds of the match. That’s why an integrated gravity sensor disables the side facing downwards, so you can grip tightly and not worry about accidentally changing channel or powering off the set.

It also deftly deals with cursor control. Taking its cues from the modern smartphone, the addition of accelerometers and gyroscopes let you naturally control an on-screen cursor without the need for a constant line of sight. Motions are recorded digitally, rather than optically, so they won’t feel as jerky as LG’s IR-emitting Magic Motion. With the right settings, cursor control should be fluid and natural.

Philips remote press

This wouldn’t be very useful if the cursor moved every time you nudged the remote, so Philips has sensibly added a touch-sensitive button that only enabled cursor movement when it detects pressure. Picking the Ok button for this task makes perfect sense, as it’s the one you’ll be using to make selections, so you never have to think about it – your finger naturally gravitates there.

Is it the perfect remote control? No. From what we can see, the one downside is that the buttons aren’t backlit, so you might struggle to type out a message in the dark, but as you’ll be doing the most important actions with muscle memory rather than looking at the remote directly you shouldn’t struggle to change channel or power of the set.

THE END?

Based on what we've seen, we're hoping that Philips has finally cracked the smart TV remote. Not so it can get a leg up on the competition, but so those other companies sit up and take notice, improve their own remotes and we finally get a straightforward, natural way to interact with our increasingly useful TVs. After all, why boot up your PC or laptop to send a tweet, if you can do it straight from the sofa?

Once a standard has been established, third party developers will know what can and can't be done on a TV, which will hopefully lead to more services and features available for download in the future. If they want to turn their attention to more futuristic control methods, that's great too - just as long as we don't have to worry about how we'll navigate BBC iPlayer in the meantime.

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