Photo: Rodger Cummins
Panasonic's new televisions know who's watching them.
As Gadgets on the Go racks up its 800th post, I'd say one thing that's really changed over that time is how aware our gadgets have become of their surroundings. Modern smartphones hang on your every word, while Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S4 also lets you wave at the screen and can even tell when your attention is elsewhere. It's not just smartphones which are becoming more attentive. We've been able to wave at televisions for a while, but the new range of Panasonic televisions can even tell who is waving.
"It's basically a simple version of fast-user switching for your lounge room."
Panasonic unveiled its latest televisions in Adelaide this week, including the top-of-the-line VT60 series which incorporates facial recognition as well as voice recognition powered by Nuance's Dragon TV. The facial recognition features are pretty basic at this point, but it will be interesting to see how they mature over the next few years.
The facial recognition is easy to set up. You simply create a new user home page and then use the television's built-in camera to scan the room for faces. Choose your own face from the line-up and you can set yourself up a new user account. From here you can customise your own home screen with links to your favourite features and services such as iView.
Next time you sit down in front of the television, you can pick up Panasonic's palm-sized remote control, hold down the button and say "My Home Screen". The television will recognise your face, or let you choose from the people it can see, and then launch your home screen. So it's basically a simple version of fast-user switching for your lounge room. You can also using voice commands to switch between services and search for content.
The television doesn't detect faces automatically, otherwise it might insist on switching users when someone sits down next to you. Nor does it let you limit features for certain users, such as children, although if it did I'm sure smart kids would quickly develop their own face-hacking tricks.
It's still early days, but you can already see the potential for this kind of technology -- it's reminiscent of the luxury cars which automatically adjust the seat and mirrors depending on who's driving. Once a television knows your face and learns your habits, it could automatically switch to the show it suspects you're sitting down to watch. Alternatively it could call up your personal list of recordings. Thanks to internet access and local connectivity, it might even check your calendar for appointments and divert your phone to voicemail while you're watching something important. It could also tap into the rest of your home entertainment system and even your home automation system.
What do you want from a television that can recognise who is sitting on the couch? Where else in the home might facial recognition be handy?
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