LAS VEGAS — With devices like the Xbox Kinect well-known in our society, we might expect that other devices can also know what we are doing when we wave our hands. Samsung has been trying to put similar ability to "detect interactions" into its high-end smart TVs for some time, but by using a low-end 2-megalixed camera a built-in camera. That's no match for the multiple cameras and infrared beam that the PrimeSense system in the Xbox Kinect (and soon other devices) use.
During a hands-on (as it were) demonstration at CES this week, I flailed about futilely trying to get the company's new high-end LCD and plasma TVs to read our sign language — or even acknowledge us. The first challenge was simply getting it to know I was there. That's supposed to work through the cute gesture of waving at the TV — which it picked up on about one-third of the time.
Finally making it that far, I tried to activate basic functions, such as gesturing to the top or bottom of the screen to bring up menus or clicking an up arrow on the left side of the screen to pump up the volume. The TV can tell that you are selecting an on-screen button when you close your waving hand into a fist — at least, it can every now and then. [See also: New Chip Adds Kinect-Like Control to More Gadgets ]
In practice, all I really got out of the experience was a sore arm from holding it up so long. Despite how janky the process was, this is not Samsung's first foray into gesture recognition. Some of its 2012 sets also offered the capability rather incapably. I tried that out last summer to play the classic edition of "Angry Birds" — one of the game apps that the smart TVs run. Just the simple action of closing a fist to grab that bird and pulling an arm back to set up the slingshot proved nearly impossible — and elicited groans of exasperation not only from me but from a Samsung representative who was ostensibly demonstrating it.
Fortunately, flailing about isn't the only or even main way to control the TVs. Each includes a slick remote with a very responsive trackpad-style panel that makes sliding around and selecting menu items about as easy on the TV as moving a cursor around on a PC screen.
Samsung says that the new TVs also have an improved speech-recognition capability called NLU — natural language understanding. It should require less formulaic voice commands and have more of a Siri-like method of accepting natural phrase such as "Play 'The Simpsons.'"
In the loud Vegas nightclub where Samsung did its demonstration, it wasn't possible to test out the feature at all. But it seems unlikely that it could be even worse than the wild hand gesticulations.
Samsung says that its new line of TVs will go on sale in the first half of 2013, prices unknown.