Philips's Voice Commander, which costs pounds 99, looks like an ordinary remote control unit, but it has a built- in microphone and responds to simple commands, such as 'play' or 'record'.
The primary aim of the new gadget is to programme video players, after research has shown that more than 80 per cent of those who own video machines have difficulty programming them.
Alternatives to using the buttons have already been tried, but the barcode system printed alongside TV listings did not prove popular, and the simple VideoPlus+ system of keying in a string of numbers apparently foxes some people.
A spokesman for Philips said: 'We find that people over 30 do not want to interact with their video machines at all - they have complete technofear . . . Voice control is the next big thing. It is going to take over wherever there is interaction between people and machines.'
Philips predicts that within a few years voices will control almost all electronic equipment - from computers and lifts to microwave ovens and hi-fi systems.
A Philips television will automatically accept Voice Commander signals. For use with any other make the box must be pre-programmed with the signals used by the existing remote control.
Then the box is taught to recognise voices - it can cope with up to four. Each voice runs through all the words they will need; 'on', 'off', 'volume' and a full set of numbers so the device can switch and set channels and times of programmes. Satellite owners can programme the device to switch on their receiver, and tune it.