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Microsoft touts voice search for video on Xbox – is that the right way to go?

In the run up to Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Microsoft has been talking up both its Xbox 360 as a deliverer of TV services, and also showing a

By PETER WHITE

Published: 9 June, 2011

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In the run up to Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Microsoft has been talking up both its Xbox 360 as a deliverer of TV services, and also showing a new side to its best-selling Kinect gesture recognition system, and it has launched voice search services for video.

Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is “voice search” on Bing, though it won’t convince us in a hurry. When we saw the underlying technology of Kinect demonstrated at IBC last year we were distinctly unimpressed, and yet kids have bought it in their millions, and gesture control for TV sets has been mooted ever since. Faultline can’t buy into the idea that you can throw away your TV remote and use gestures and voice search accurately enough. Instead we believe, as do many equipment vendors in the TV space, that a second tablet screen will act both as a sampling screen (checking out other channels), a data screen (while watching baseball, you look up the averages) and as a second screen in its own right for viewing content away from the TV, so touch controls are fine, and anyway remote gesturing just makes you feel silly.

Similarly searching Bing by voice. There’s not only the possibility of the voice algorithms screwing up and searching for the wrong thing, but in Google and even in the much improved Bing, there is still the fact that searching for video in particular, but actually for anything, the result you want is so often not in the first five pages of search hits. It’s sometimes just not picked up at all, and needs further searches to uncover. Voice search will also make you sound silly.

So when Microsoft asks, “What if you could find your favorite games, music, movies and TV shows, just with the sound of your voice? What if you could ask your TV to find “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and it did — instantly?” we worry that this is precisely what won’t happen. And what occurs when the system wants to suggest something to you? Does it speak back and say, “did you mean Parry Hottler and the three arrows?” or does it just take you to the wrong place and not even explain itself? To us this is just the wrong direction entirely, but we know that many people will disagree, as they did with Kinect.

One element that makes it slightly easier is that Bing for Voice will be working with a very small number of videos, since it is only being talked about on Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN, plus music, and the Xbox Live Marketplace. Perhaps it can find content in that small subset, but the chances are this is just a gimmick, in the same way that we feel (not many agree) that Kinect is a gimmick.

“This is an incredible time of growth and innovation for our business leveraging technologies that see us, hear us and connect us all together,” said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “This year by bringing together the power of Kinect for Xbox 360 and the intelligence of Bing, we are transforming how people enjoy entertainment.”

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