Alexa, Google Assistant & Other Voice UIs Come Into Their Own - Twice

Alexa, Google Assistant & Other Voice UIs Come Into Their Own

The technology is now ‘critical’ for the industry
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This month’s CEDIA 2017 gave A/V products and custom-installed integrated systems more of a voice in the way they’re controlled.

New products are on the way from multiple suppliers to deliver voice control of key product features through speakers equipped with the Amazon and Google voice-powered digital assistants. Proprietary voice control is also turning up in the second product from Josh.ai.

Some products, mainly tabletop speakers, are getting built-in Amazon and Google virtual assistants and far-field microphones.

“Voice control and its ever-evolving place in the ecosystem for our type of sale” were among the key trends that ProSource CEO/president Dave Workman said he was tracking at the show. “Voice is critical at this point,” added CEDIA emerging technologies VP Dave Pedigo. “We’ll continue to see more products with voice control.”

Here are some of the products recently adding voice control:

Denon, Marantz: The two component-audio brands, owned by Sound United, each unveiled two high-end AVRs equipped with the brands’ Heos wireless multiroom audio platform, with Marantz also adding a new high-end A/V preamp processor with Heos.

Via a software upgrade this month, these new models, all other Heos-equipped AVRs, most Heos multiroom speakers, the current Heos-equipped multiroom amp, and a new Heos-equipped four-zone multiroom preamp will get Amazon’s Alexa for Home skill. With it, consumers will be able to use their voice to control the following Heos-product functions via Amazon’s Alexa-equipped smart speakers: on/off , volume, mute, skip, pause, back and input switching, including switching to Heos.

In early November, another software update will add Alexa’s multiroom capability to Heos-equipped Denon and Marantz products. Consumers will be able to use their voice to command an Amazon smart speaker to send music from an Alexa music service to one or more Heos devices at a time. Users will also be able to direct different Alexa music services and different stations to different rooms for simultaneous playback.

The new products are Denon’s $1,599-suggested AVR-X4400H and $2,199 AVRX6400H, Marantz’s new $2,199 SR7012 and $2,999 SR8012, and Marantz’s $2,199 AV7704 preamp processor. All come with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3-D and HDMI pass-through of HLG, HDR 10 and Dolby Vision HDR technologies.

iHome: In its booth, Amazon is showing iHome’s first clock radio with built-in Alexa service. The Wi-Fi/Bluetooth-equipped iAVS16 not only responds to voice queries and streams Alexa’s streaming services, but it also controls Alexa-compatible smart-home products.

Josh.ai: Josh Micro is the company’s second home-control system with proprietary voice UI. It fits in the palm of the hand, and one processor is intended per room. Josh Micro understands where it is so that users don’t have to specify a room when saying commands.

The compact processor combines a home control processor, far-field microphone array for voice commands, a touch-capacitive surface that can be programmed to activate scenes, and a touch ring around the top to control volume, dimming and the like.

The controller connects to a home network via Wi-Fi, powerlines or Ethernet to automatically discover connected devices, including products from Crestron, Control4, Lutron, Sonos, Autonomic, Nest, Chamberlain, Aprilaire, Sony and others.

Josh Micro is also touted as the first hardware product that accepts compound commands to create ad hoc scenes without preprogramming macros.

The controller comes with built-in motion, touch, temperature, humidity and ambient light sensors that can be set to trigger scenes or automate commands.

Origin Acoustics: The company is bringing Alexa functionality to custom-installed multiroom audio system with the launch of two Valet amplifiers, a $1,500 8x50-watt four-zone model and a $2,000 12x50-watt six-zone model. Each can be linked via Cat-5 or -6 cable to four and six Amazon Dots, respectively, with one Dot installed per room in the ceiling via a special no-tool install kit.

Each multizone amplifier drives in-wall or in-ceilings speakers that play the Dot’s music-streaming services (Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn). Thanks to the new multiroom capability of the Echo Dot and other Echo speakers, users in one room can select a music service or music-service stations to be played in one or more rooms at a time. Different rooms can play different services, and different rooms can play different stations from the same service, the company said. Dot volume can also be controlled by voice.

The in-wall and in-ceiling speakers also deliver Alexa’s responses to voice queries. When a consumer asks Alexa a question from a specific room, other audio sources plugged into the amplifiers’ signal-sensing line-level inputs, such as a TV, will automatically mute in that room so Alexa’s response can be heard.

In the ceiling, a Dot can be installed via a tool-less mounting system and hidden behind a 3-inch speaker grille.

The amplifier comes with abalun that, at the Dot end of the cable run, terminates the Cat cable with both a USB plug, which delivers power to the Dot from the amplifier, and a microphone jack, which sends the Dot’s audio output to the amplifier.

As with any Dot, users can control compatible smart-home products through the Dot’s microphones. If the amps are integrated with multiroom matrix-audio switchers equipped with an Alexa skill, a whole-house audio system can be controlled by voice through the Dots, including source selection.

Origin plans more Dot-connected amplifiers.

The goal, said CEO Jeremy Burkhardt, is to expand interest in custom systems to millennials, expand sales by leveraging the latest hot product, open up the lower end of the custom market, and appeal to production-home builders who contend that their customers find installed multiroom systems often hard to use.

Onkyo, Pioneer: The two brands announced that select DTS Play-Fi-enabled wireless-multiroom products — including AVRs, soundbars and speakers – will support the Amazon Alexa Connected Speaker APIs. The APIs will enable voice-enabled control of select product functions from an Amazon smart speaker. The APIs also enable multiple Play-Fi-enabled devices to be linked together for multiroom music playback of Alexa’s streaming content.

Control of the Play-Fi devices can also be delivered by voice through any of three Play-Fi-equipped speakers due with built-in far-field Alexa Voice Service. Those speakers are the Phorus PS10, Onkyo Smart Speaker P3 and Pioneer Elite Smart Speaker F4. The trio ships in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter.

Onkyo and Pioneer will roll out Alexa control through the Connected Speaker APIs to hundreds of current and new DTS Play-Fi-enabled products through firmware updates beginning in the first quarter of 2018, the companies said.

In August, Onkyo and Pioneer began releasing firmware updates on several products to add support for DTS Play-Fi multiroom audio technology, with product updates coming to more products in the third and fourth quarters. More than 200 current and new Onkyo and Pioneer products will get the Play-Fi software update.

Onkyo: The $299-suggested G3, shipping in October, is the brand’s first smart speaker with Googler Assistant built in, enabling voice control of information queries, multiroom distribution of music via Chromecast built in, and voice control of compatible smart-home devices.

Assistant-compatible streaming services can be accessed by voice through the G3 and distributed throughout the house to multiple audio devices equipped with Chromecast built in. Those devices’ volume control and song selection can be selected by voice via the Smart Speaker G3.

Yamaha: Echo voice control of more than 40 MusicCast wireless-multiroom audio products via an early-October firmware update, which will enable voice control of key product functions through Alexa-enabled devices, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Tap and Echo Show.

The Alexa skill represents “an initial step for integration of Alexa control with Yamaha AV products,” the company said. “Yamaha plans to offer deeper integration of Alexa in A/V products by this winter.”

The skill delivers voice control of such MusicCast-product functions as powering products on and off , controlling basic playback functions, selecting playlists, and linking multiple MusicCast products throughout the house for simultaneous playback of a music source, the company said.

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