Hands on: Dish’s New Hopper Remote with Gesture & Voice Control is Good Step in the Right Direction

New Hopper Voice Remote from Dish recognizes voice commands most of the time if you speak deliberately and close to the mic, but the button layout is flawed and Dish’s response to commands can be unhelpful.

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First, let’s say I love my new Dish service, but that's another story coming soon. I have a few issues with the user experience but the mighty Hopper 3 is a new platform and I know they’re working on it. The new Dish Hopper Voice Remote ($30) improves the UX manifold.

Here are a few first impressions after an hour of playing with it. As a caveat, since the product is brand new, we editors were given only basic instructions on using voice control. I’m sure there are much more discoveries to come.


Quality of Voice Recognition

Right now, I would say Dish is doing a pretty good job of recognizing commands. The very first thing I tried was, “Watch Morning Joe” and it took me right to our favorite news show via the DVR.

I was successful with Dish’s suggested commands like, “Watch ESPN” (started playing the live channel) and just plain old “Soccer” (provided options related to the sport). “Action movies” worked like a charm.

I hit about 70% with voice commands when I wasn't really trying, but closer to 90 or 95% when speaking with a stilted tongue, straight into the remote. I tried a few times to find “romantic comedies” and the closest capture was “manta comedies.” Dish didn’t come close to recognizing “movies with Paul Newman.”

You have to be very conscious of pressing the mic button. It must be pressed the entire time you're speaking. Give it a second to wake up before speaking and don't release it prematurely.

Couldn't quite find the “romantic comedies”

This happens sometimes if you're not really trying.


Response to Voice Commands

How the remote captures voice is one thing. The other thing is where it takes you when it understands your command.

In the above example, if you say “Morning Joe,” Dish will display your options for that term. If you say, “Watch Morning Joe,” it will start rolling the video on the big screen. As it should be.

Ask for “Action movies,” though and the response isn't too helpful. Chances are the nine movies that appear are not even close to what you want. So you still need to fuss with the navigation keys to get to “more.” The more button takes you to nine more equally random flicks. Not helpful.

It would be better if Dish took you straight to a page filled with the usual “action movie” offerings.

On another note, “Men in Black” and “Bad Boys” appeared in almost all my requests, including “manta comedies” and “movies with nudity.”

It understood “action movies” but I don't like the choices.

Requesting, “Netflix” opens up the service, but voice-control ends there. I sure wish it got you past the Netflix splash screen. Better integration with this crucial service would be outstanding. I would like to “resume” a movie on Netflix or “Watch Orange is the New Black” via voice. No can do.

Voice control does not extend into Netflix. You’re back using the standard navigation. Oddly enough, it’s challenging to get out of Netflix, so it would sure be nice to simply “Exit Netflix.”

There are some quirky responses depending on the wording of your commands:

“Watch Dexter” brings up options for items with Dexter in the show title or actor’s name; however, there’s no listing for the gruesome Showtime series we know and love.

Just “Dexter,” however, takes you to a menu of Showtime episodes from both Dish on Demand and Netflix. Requesting “Dexter on Netflix” doesn’t change the outcome.

“Watch Dexter”

Just “Dexter”

Requesting “Movies with nudity” kind of works. We got mostly movies that might plausibly show skin (top pick: “The Martian,”) but I’m not the one to ask.

I’m quite certain, however, that the “A Christmas Story” does not have nudity in it. I had to question “Ant-Man” as well.

Looking up the Parents’ Guide for Ant-Man, I see only this reference to sex and nudity:

There is one mention of a pair of breasts having been touched in the past, which is a passing reference and is not dwelt on further.

A Christmas Story, revisited?


The Physical Remote

The Voice Remote is pretty much like the original Dish remote except the numbers and navigation buttons (up, down, left, right, select) are replaced with a touchpad. So let’s start with that.

GESTURE PAD

I don’t think the gesture pad is much of a benefit … at least not yet. If you want to scroll up/down and left/right, you tap gently on the pad in the corresponding direction. Pressing the pad is like pressing the “select” button. The temptation, however, is to push to navigate, as with arrow buttons. But doing so pops up a menu, which varies depending on where you are in the navigation.

I like that the touchpad lets you scroll quickly through listings by swishing your thumb across it. It’s simple to buzz through the TV Guide or through long lists of movies.

Intuitively, you might think that thumbing across the touchpad while watching a show would let you forward or rewind at different speeds. No such thing. Thumbing while watching opens up a listing of the next shows in the queue.

Thumb-swishing across the touchpad during a show brings up a mini-guide

I would like it if Dish used the touchpad to help users control the TV and content without having to look down at the remote. Maybe press-and-hold to pause or double-tap to “Recall.”

Better yet, press and hold top right for volume up; bottom right for volume down.

How about letting us “draw” commands on the pad? Fingering an “M” and “J” might take me to Morning Joe.

What else might it do? Perhaps serve as a biometric sensor to open up your personal preferences or keep the kiddos out of the nudity? Or have each finger trigger different commands? My index finger goes to Morning Joe; my middle finger goes to ESPN; my ring finger goes to romantic comedies ….

My husband’s middle finger goes to romantic comedies.

NUMBER ‘BUTTONS’

While there are no hard buttons on the voice remote, there are virtual buttons via the touchpad.

Press the 123 button on the remote and it lights up the buttons on the touchpad, which is pretty cool. I was about 95% accurate with my number selections.

Oddly, a corresponding number-pad pops up on the TV as an onscreen overlay. I don't see the value in that.

Why the on-screen overlay?

Anyway … now that we know there is some flexibility with that touchpad, we can imagine other roles for it. For example, pressing the APPS button might light up your favorite apps, right there on the touchpad for one-touch access.

With a little two-way communication (available?), pressing the DVR button on the remote might light up a list of your top four shows, so you can select from the touchpad itself.

SIDE BUTTONS

The buttons on the side of the original remote were already a nuisance. There are four on the upper left side for source control (SAT, TV, AUX, INPUT). They’re simply way too easy to push accidentally, leaving your husband with a non-responsive remote because he unwittingly pressed the “TV” button and now can’t control the on-screen satellite content so he calls you in the middle of the night while you’re traveling, screaming that Dish is broken (again).

Now, the voice remote adds three buttons – voice, shortcut (no idea what that is) and backlight — to the right side of the remote, which is even more exasperating.

Let's play Dodge the Side Buttons.

You have to press and hold the voice button for the duration of your voice command, but it’s darn tricky to do one-handed. You’re bound to hit one of the buttons on the other side of the remote.

  1. Get rid of the left-side buttons.
  2. Move the mic button to the bottom center of the remote, where most people would expect to find it, and it’s less awkward to press and hold.

Overall

I like having a voice-control option. Otherwise, with all the features available through Dish, it can be challenging to get to your final destination without a bunch of clicks from a traditional remote.

I don’t watch sports often, so when I do want to catch a game, I don’t know where to go. Simply uttering, “Watch San Antonio Spurs” would save me from a few frustrations.

The touchpad probably holds vast potential, but that potential has not yet revealed itself.

Finally, Dish needs to rethink its button layout. Those side buttons are a killer and the mic button would be better off at the bottom of the device's front panel.

The backlight button is a welcome addition and hints at greater things to come with the LED-backed touchpad.

Is it worth the $30 upgrade? I'm never an early adopter, so I wouldn't buy it today. But in six months? Yeah, probably. It would make for a great stocking stuffer.

Bottom line is that the Hopper Voice Remote is a step in the right direction. Reviewing it gave me a deeper appreciation for the challenges of voice control.

Speech recognition is just the beginning. Where do you take the user once you understand the command? If you request “action movies” while watching news, should you get just a drop-down menu of limited choices? Or should you put the live show into a PIP box and present a full screen with a standard menu of movies and related artwork?

And how should the response differ if you request “action movies” while in your DVR menu?

This is some tricky business.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

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