-Contributed Post by Bill Sheppard-

How we watch television has evolved rapidly over the last twenty years, both in terms of the range of content and how, where and when we view it.  Twenty years ago, choosing the size of a TV was the main decision people had to make, and it was unusual to find more than two or three screens in the house.

Today, television is one of the most pervasive technologies on the market. In addition to traditional TVs, consumers can access programming on the devices they use most often, including phones, tablets and computers. This enhanced availability has spawned a more engaging and pervasive user experience, with options like playing along with a game show, voting for a reality contestant, researching the characters and actors of a show, or sharing our thoughts through various social media networks.

In terms of content, a mere two decades ago we had four broadcast networks, a few dozen cable networks, and HBO, which primarily showed movies a year or more after they were in theaters.  Today we choose from hundreds of cable networks, dozens of movie channels, a myriad of internet-based (“over-the-top” or OTT) sources such as Netflix and Hulu, and nearly limitless user-generated content on YouTube, Vimeo, and elsewhere.

Even further, the wide range of content accessible through the television has expanded beyond traditional shows, movies and videos. Today’s televisions – particularly Smart TVs, which are growing in popularity and availability – act more as media hubs, allowing users better access to some of their favorite content, including email, social networks like Facebook and Twitter and other third-party applications like Skype.

Our content options have increased, but our methods for navigating and accessing our favorite programming and applications have not progressed at the same rapid rate, leaving us searching for a more efficient and user-friendly way to find and enjoy the content we want to engage with. While smartphones and tablets can provide a better user interface than a simple (or complex) remote control, the experience of digging through endless menus and pecking at an onscreen keyboard is still far from ideal.

Nuance technology has addressed this issue in many other markets, using voice recognition to enhance how we handle information, control our PCs and automobiles, and interact with our smartphones.  We now have a full product suite, Dragon TV, which reimagines the television user experience.

Voice can be an incredibly efficient way to navigate an otherwise complex user interface.  Not only has our ability to recognize spoken words reached impressive levels of accuracy, but we can also parse that speech to understand the intent of what’s being said.  Dragon TV understands direct commands such as, “When is the next time the Los Angeles Dodgers play?”, “Show me comedy movies with four stars,” or, “Find the episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ with Katie Holmes,” quickly yielding the desired result.

More complex queries are possible as well, such as “Show me action movies with Matt Damon” or “Show me movies directed by Steven Spielberg”. Dragon TV incorporates Nuance’s Natural Language Understanding (NLU) model, which advances a user and a device beyond rigid voice input and response and allows for a more conversational relationship in which the technology interprets the meaning of a user’s request and delivers accurate results.

Nuance’s use of NLU means strict syntax is not required. “Show me comedies with Emma Stone” and “Are there any Emma Stone comedies?” will both return the intended response.

In addition to using voice for search and discovery, Dragon TV can also use voice to identify who is controlling the television and use this to provide customization for that user, such as presenting favorite channels or limiting the availability of content not suitable for children.  This recent video from Panasonic shows its vision for how customized user profiles might look.

Philips and DIRECTV recently released products based on Nuance’s Dragon TV technology.  Philips has launched a line of televisions in China which support full voice navigation and search in both Mandarin and English, while DIRECTV has enhanced its existing second screen application running on Android and iOS to support full spoken NLU-based search and control of the set-top box. Additionally, Nuance’s Dragon TV powers the voice capabilities of a number of televisions from other leading manufacturers, including Panasonic, Samsung and LG.

I’m excited by the new capabilities and ease-of-use which Dragon TV brings to televisions and second screen applications, and look forward to ongoing engagement within the TV technology ecosystem to bring forward new innovations. This is only the beginning of a pioneering and dynamic process that will further revolutionize the television experience!

See more information about Philips’ recent announcement here, while information on the DIRECTV app can be found here.

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Bill Sheppard

About Bill Sheppard

Bill Sheppard, senior manager Dragon TV, is a key contributor to the development and management of Nuance's innovative Dragon TV platform for the digital living room. Bill helps fulfill Nuance's vision of people using natural speech to interact with televisions and other entertainment devices in order to create more productive and satisfying interactive entertainment experiences. In his previous role, Bill was chief digital media officer for the Java Development Group at Oracle/Sun Microsystems, where he led Oracle's interactive television efforts working with cable and satellite operators, movie studios, and consumer electronics vendors resulting in deployment of over 150M Java-based television devices. Bill is a frequent presenter at CES, NAB, Digital Hollywood, and other industry conferences, and served as Director of the Blu-ray Disc Association from 2006-2012. Bill – who is also an Emmy voter, an accomplished trombonist, and holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Iowa State University – lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, two daughters, and dog, Biscuit.