With satellite and cable TV packages hovering around the "thousand channel" mark, the common complaint isn't that there's nothing to watch--it's that it's difficult and tedious to find what you're looking for.
That's the problem that DirecTV's upcoming voice search functionality is aiming to solve. While DirecTV already offers search functionality on its DVRs, the new voice search features let subscribers ditch the tedious text-entry process by speaking to the DirecTV smartphone app, which is available for both iOS and Android.
DirecTV is far fromthe first to bring voice search to TV, but as I saw during a private demo in DirecTV's New York offices, the company's approach avoids many common pitfalls.
Natural language commands like "find the Lakers game" or "search for comedies with Adam Sandler" worked without needing to say a specific cue phrase, such as "Xbox, Bing" or "Hi, TV." The service also recognized the speaker's voice very well, translating her words into text search queries without a hiccup. Granted, I only saw searches that DirecTV representatives knew would work, but it was considerably less awkward than the vast majority of voice-powered TV demos I've seen.
Voice search is capable of scouring through upcoming, on-demand, and pay-per-view content, with the ability to filter results by channel, actor, genre, and time frame. The app also presents clever suggestions in the form of speech bubbles, designed to prime your mind with possible searches, such as "find documentaries on this week". The company's reps also mention that the bubbles make a natural home for promotional opportunities.
The existing DirecTV mobile experience is well-integrated, giving you the option to watch your searched-for content right on your smartphone or on your TV. There's even a neat ability to "push" your search results to your TV, then use your phone merely as a controller to swipe through the results, allowing everyone in the room to browse the content, rather than just whoever's holding the smartphone. Conversely, if you're outside the home, you can still use voice search to schedule recordings on your home DVR.
Still, there's room for improvement. Searching for "Breaking Bad" brought up relevant results available on DirecTV -- a smattering of reruns airing over the next two weeks, as well as a stub that allowed a scheduled recording of the season 5 premiere in July -- but I couldn't help but think how I'd also want to see that seasons 1-4 are also available on Netflix. There's also currently no ability to limit searches to "free" content, so plenty of pay-per-view options will show up, even if you're just looking for the content you've already paid for. While DirecTV seems in no hurry to integrate streaming content like Netflix in its results (there's no Netflix app available on its box), the ability to filter "free" content was said to be at the top of the company's list for future improvements.
When asked about the possibility of adding a dongle-based microphone or updated remote control that would allow voice search without having to use the smartphone app, the company's rep demurred, saying that no such plans were in the works. The tablet version will likely arrive sometime after the smartphone version, but no timing has been announced yet.
Voice search is slated to be added to DirecTV's smartphone apps this summer as a software update. And while it will technically start as an "open beta," voice search will be available to anyone that updates to the latest version of the app.