When you think of Onkyo you probably think about speakers, headphones and high-end audio equipment. Now the Japanese company is turning its hand to wearables, but audio is still very much at the heart of how it works.
The VC-NX01 is essentially a speaker that you wear around your neck and instantly brings to mind neckband-style headphones like Samsung's Level U and LG's Tone sports headphones.
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On the device you'll find physical buttons to turn it on/off and adjust volume, but it will automatically awaken and be ready to use as soon as you put them on thanks to the a neck sensor, which essentially works like a proximity sensor.
This neck speaker will let you listen to your music and there's four microphones on board enabling you to ask the assistant questions, automatically adjusting to compensate for ambient noise (like passing traffic) to ensure you can hear the things you want to hear clearly. It will also give users hands-free access to what Onkyo calls on-the-go 'concierge' services using its AI platform that's powered by SoundHound and its Houndify tech. That's the company perhaps best known for offering its music discovery alternative to Shazam.
These 'concierge' services consider time, geographic location and user characteristics to decide what services it should offer up along with a recommended app that is best suited for the situation. So for example, it could recognise that it is almost lunch time and ask you if you should take a break and have something to eat. You can then ask if there is a particular kind of restaurant nearby and the assistant will recommend the best places based on the time of the day. Once you've picked your place, it will also offer navigation support to get you there pronto.
It can also follow up with multiple questions in context to your current situation. Using the restaurant scenario once again, it can help you locate somewhere nearby that's kid friendly and has Wi-Fi to filter out the best options. It also supports Onkyo Voice, which adds additional voice options (Cynthia, George or Lucy) if the current AI assistant voice doesn't quite do it for you. So it sounds like on paper it could offer smarts to rival the likes of Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
We say on paper because unfortunately we weren't able to put the prototype to the test. There are also no details on when it might launch and how much it could cost. If it's priced anything like Onkyo's high-end audio products, it could well be pricey. We do know that it will be compatible with iOS and Android smartphones and there are currently no plans to additionally support Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.
Onkyo is still being pretty sketchy about the full extent of its AI-powered assistant abilities, but if it lives up to its ambitious claims of delivering a seriously smart assistant that serves up information when you need it most, then we could be looking forward to something really impressive here.
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