A new remote-control unit unveiled at an international consumer electronics fair in Berlin yesterday takes voice commands and converts them into the infra-red signals that normal remote controls produce.
The Voice Commander could be particularly welcomed by the 60 per cent of VCR owners who admit to having trouble programming their machines. With the new remote, you just tell it you want to record on Monday from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. No more converting to a 24-hour clock or searching for little buttons.
The Voice Commander is not perfect. While it can be trained to four different voices (in one of five languages), it may require you to modify your speech slightly for it to understand some of the more difficult words. And, given that you need to press a button on the device when giving commands, it will not solve the perennial problem of finding the remote control.
It has one delight up its sleeve. With the command 'zap it', the video fast-forwards for 60 seconds past recorded advertisements. Sadly, it does not understand the command 'find me something worth watching'.
Philips will launch the Voice Commander in the UK in October at pounds 99.
Grundig unveiled a television that will blank the screen if 'adult' or 'violent' material is transmitted. Many European channels use a coding system to tell video recorders when programmes start and finish. This system can carry information on the type of material being transmitted, but so far broadcasters have not bothered with flagging adult material. However, the satellite broadcaster RTL will soon use the system, and others are expected to follow.
The new Grundig sets can use a parental lock that will blank the screen when these codes are detected. However, there will no doubt be plenty of unflagged material for teenagers to enjoy for some time to come.