At CES, TVs Are Bigger, Better and Smarter With Digital Assistants

Voice-controlled television is becoming the new standard

LG's newest TVs some integrated with Google Assistant. LG
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Digital assistants are coming to your TV, aimed to make your life easier—one voice command at a time.

A slew of TV product announcements arrived on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show, each promising a bigger and better device to binge-watch your latest Netflix obsession. And soon, it will finally be OK to talk to your TV: They’re getting “smarter,” equipped with voice assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa that will respond to your every beck and call.

To start off CES, LG Electronics announced its newest TV lineup: the LG AI OLED TV (available in nine different screens sizes) and the LG AI SUPER UHD TV (seven screen sizes). While the TVs boast new image capabilities, it’s the integration with Google Assistant that steals the show.

The move makes sense to industry analysts. “Adding AI plus voice is a natural evolution and in lockstep with TV viewing behavior: multitasking around the home, multi-screen consumption, connecting with social,” said Andrew Sirotnik, cofounder and chief experience officer at Fluid.

The two new LG AI TVs come with ThinQ AI technology, which uses deep learning to understand user behaviors. It also allows the TV to connect to third-party devices and helps other LG products interact with the TV.

LG’s webOS, a smart TV platform, still exists and can understand voice commands within the TV, as does Google Assistant. Tap a microphone button on your remote to activate it and then search for something—with your voice—to watch or to turn on the TV. You can also use it to control other connected devices like smart lights or order pizza.

If you ask the TV something and the webOS system can’t handle it, Google Assistant will take over and show you any of the results on screen. You can also use your Amazon Echo to do similar tasks via an Alexa skill—you just won’t see anything happen on your TV screen.

LG’s push into voice assistants is catching up with other players in the space. Last year, Sony started to amp up the competition by incorporating Google Assistant into certain Sony TV models, as well letting an Alexa device like the Echo Dot control your TV.

The connected TV with a digital assistant is quickly becoming a crowded space. On Jan. 8, TCL also used CES to unveil the new Roku Smart Soundbar, which lets people control their TV, turn it on, and watch shows with the Roku Entertainment Assistant (similar to Google Assistant and Alexa).

Not to be outdone, Samsung revealed its newest lineup of TVs will work with Bixby, the company’s own smart digital assistant. Just like TCL and LG, you can ask Bixby to do a number of actions, including controlling any other smart home devices.

However, having many players in the connected TV space isn’t necessarily terrible—and might just amp up companies trying to match what consumers want and need, thinks Sirotnik. It also amps up the growing potential of using voice for everything through these smart assistants—a question on marketers minds as more people own devices like the Google Home or Amazon Echo.

“It will open up both interesting opportunities and challenges for brands as well; they will have more channels to engage customers, but must tie together various data sources to deliver a connected, cohesive experience,” said Colin Morris, director at Adobe Analytics Cloud.

The war over which digital assistant wins the hearts, minds and pockets of consumers is just beginning—and we’ll see it play out across myriad products.

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.