Voice control is no longer a spectacular, high-dollar, glitch-prone technology only geeky early-adopters would spend the money on and then tolerate the hiccups. It’s still not glitch-proof, but voice control has become mainstream thanks to a number of big-name companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.
It’s Amazon, though—in large part thanks to its enormous financial and marketing resources—and its Alexa Voice Service that’s brought voice control out of the maker spaces and into people’s homes. So, I have to say that Alexa integration into so many extremely affordable devices is at the top of my Best of ’17 list.
That’s not to say that having Alexa as part of wireless speakers, streaming TV boxes, puck-shaped squawk boxes, clock radios, and whatever else it’s being thrown into is a world-changing development. In my house, getting the latest weather forecast is the No. 1 thing I use Alexa for.
While I’ll admit to playing a lot of Jeopardy with my daughter (but only enough to rank it in the Top 20% of uses), the No. 2 activity I use Alexa for is a two-parter—and both parts involve my theater room. Part A is to turn on/off or dim the lights in the theater. Part B is to fire up the system for the particular TV-watching activity we’re going to enjoy. This might be, for example, watching a recording on the Dish Hopper 3 DVR or watching a 4K movie streamed from Netflix using the Roku Streaming Stick+ I just installed.
Early in 2017, Control4 made it possible to integrate an Alexa-enabled device (I use an Echo Dot in the theater room) into its automation systems. So instead of pushing a single button on a remote control to initiate a sequence of commands, now I say a single phrase: “Alexa, turn on Watch Dish!” or “Alexa, turn on Watch Netflix!”
Before you begin to think that’s a trivial, lazy-ass use-case for Alexa, I should explain the scenario. Most evenings, our family eats dinner in the theater room. It’s not easy fumbling for a light switch or a remote control when your hands are otherwise occupied carrying a plate, silverware, a drink, and (if we remember) a napkin. It’s a convenient timesaver that also makes the theater spill-resistant. (Though not, as we’ve experienced several times, spill-proof.)
Voice integration isn’t a control panacea. There are more activities that don’t lend themselves to voice control than ones that do. Alexa integration, as far as I know, doesn’t have any earth-shattering consequences, either. No one, for instance, is doing brain surgery using an Echo Dot. Although nothing in the home-entertainment world is all that earthshaking when you get right down to it, Alexa and the overall integration of voice control is about as close to a rumble as it gets in AV—which is why Alexa integration is my pick for the Best of 2017.
During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday