digital voice assistant Tag

John Sciacca’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist
Better Voice Integration

Voice controlwhether Siri, Alexa, or “Hey, Google”seems to be everywhere. And without question, people want to use it more and more for controlling devices in their home. But the reality is, it just isn’t quite there yet. Often in my home, the command, “Alexa, turn on family room lights” will be met with a spinning blue circle and silence, or a reply of, “I’m sorrythe device family room lights isn’t responding,” or “OK,” but nothing happens. When it works, it’s great, but when it doesn’t, it’s maddeningly frustrating.

 

Also, we’re still basically limited to asking for one thing at a time. For example, unless I want to create a specific lighting scene in my Control4 programming, having Alexa turn on lighting in four rooms takes four separate requests. It would be great if we could get to more natural speech like, “Alexa, turn on lights in the kitchen, family and dining room, and start my dinner playlist in the dining room at 25% volume.”

 

UHD Disc Rental

Once you’ve seen the glory that is a full 4K HDR movie with an immersive audio soundtrack, it’s hard to go back to slumming it with just Blu-ray quality. But there aren’t many movies I love enough to shell out $29 or more to own. However, I would be willing to pay Netflix or Redbox a premium upcharge to rent a UHD movie, watch it in the best quality, and then give it back. I already pay Netflix an extra $5 a month to upgrade to Blu-ray viewing, and I’d happily chip in an extra finsky for the privilege of renting UHD discs. There’s a new service called Rent 4K that looks intriguing and might just fight the bill . . .

2018 Wishlist
Solo Movie

While I was on line for The Last Jedi, a theater employee came out and hung a new Coming Soon poster that simply said, “SOLO, A Star Wars Story. May 25.” I was really hoping we’d get a trailer for this movie before Jedi, but no dice. I’m hoping Disney can keep the Star Wars good times rolling, and that the Ron Howard-directed Solo can launch a terrific new story franchise from the galaxy far, far away.

2018 Wishlist
Cheaper 4K Laser

The best way to experience 4K HDR movies on a big screen is via a projector using a laser light source. A laser has inherent advantages over a traditional bulb-powered projector, namely a wider color gamut able to reach farther towards the edges of the Rec.2020 triangle, far longer lifespan, no warm-up and cool-down time, less loss of light over its lifespan, and the ability to completely turn off for truly infinite black levels.

 

But laser comes with a fairly steep price. Previous models from Sony and JVC cost $50,000 and $35,000 respectively. Sony unveiled its VPL-VW885ES at this past CEDIA, and it looked stunning, with vibrant colors and inky blacks at a closer-to-real-world price of $25,000. I’d love to see one of these bad boys available for less than $10,000. I think that would be a huge shot in the arm for front projection . . . and the new projector for my own media room!

 

Not Getting Sick After CES

Nearly every year, I come home from CES and promptly get sick. The level of sickness varies, but inevitably it’s 3 to 4 days of miserable, post-show recovery. Coming home flu-free from Vegas is high-up on my personal wishlist for starting the new year!

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Can Alexa Cure Technophobia?

Alexa

I’ve had a few friends hop on the Amazon Alexa bandwagon recently, and invariably they all ask me the same sort of questions: “What are all the skills I need to install ASAP? How do I control my TV with this thing? Will she work my receiver? Can I teach her my favorite TV channels? What lights should I buy? Should I replace my thermostat?” In other words, they want Alexa to do everything, and they want her to do it now.

 

They ask me because they know I’m a huge proponent of home automation in general and of voice control specifically. My Control4 system forever changed the way I interact with my entertainment, and Alexa has changed the way I interact with my Control4 system.

 

So perhaps it’s a little surprising when I give all of these Alexa home-control newbies the same advice: Slow down. Take a deep breath. Stick your toe in the water and find what works best for you before you turn every aspect of your home-entertainment control over to this digital voice assistant.

Alexa

And I say that for two reasons. First, there’s a lot that Alexa—and indeed, Google Home and similar digital voice assistants—can do, but that doesn’t mean you need them to do it all. Fill your Alexa app with too many skills, and soon you’ll find yourself tongue-tied trying to remember the words and phrases that control your lights, your TV, your Dish Hopper DVR, etc.

 

Second—and perhaps more importantly—voice control is still in its infancy. Rayva Roundtable compatriot John Sciacca and I are both Control4 programmers, and we often share programming tips and tricks. We’ve had tons of conversations that began, “How could I get Alexa to . . ?” only to end with, “So, yeah, probably not worth the trouble.”

 

We both agree that voice control, amazing as it may be, is pretty limited in many respects. Most things people want to do with voice commands could more easily be done with the press of a button.

 

Where we disagree is that I’m pretty okay with that. In my own home, Alexa has full control of my lights—I can’t remember the last time my wife or I actually touched a dimmer or light switch—and I have a few voice commands set up to fire up my home theater system and tune to a handful of favorite TV channels. Most of those simply serve as a convenience for those times when I’m on the floor, snuggling with our four-legged little boy, and don’t feel like getting up to grab the remote.

 

So how can I justify saying that Alexa has changed the way my wife and I interact with our home if our voice-control commands are as simple as all that? In many ways, I think it’s because Alexa has made my wife more comfortable with technology by giving a personality to these impersonal black boxes.

 

A year ago, she was a veritable technophobe. These days, she’s tinkering with skills integration just out of curiosity—coming up with new ways to manage our grocery list with Alexa, for example. And as a result, she’s thinking more about the ways in which all of our control and entertainment devices connect.

 

She’s asking more questions. She’s using our Control4 system more, and in ways that have nothing to do with Alexa but can be directly traced to the fact that Alexa has made her more comfortable with control and entertainment technology.

 

There’s something to be said for that, I think. Even if voice control isn’t the main course when it comes to home-entertainment control, it’s certainly the spice that makes it more palatable for some people. And for now, that’s enough to really excite me.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.