Technology

Coming Quickly to Your TV: Gesture Control


The Wii has triggered a surge in technologies to control TVs with motion controls, not buttons. Hillcrest Labs' Loop pointer leads the charge

Hillcrest Labs threw its hat into the motion-control game this week with the release of its Loop pointer to the consumer market. Until now, the Loop wasn't meant for the average Joe. Hillcrest intended to continue licensing the Freespace technology built into the device to third-party manufacturers. But with consumers facing more content choices on their TVs, Hillcrest saw an opportunity. Will motion controls become the new norm, making buttons a thing of the past?

Motion- or gesture-controlled devices are hot right now. Nintendo's Wii cleverly introduced the concept and got millions of people (including yours truly) hooked on flailing their arms while playing tennis in the living room with friends. Now other companies, including Hillcrest and Microsoft, are looking to take those gesture controls beyond mere games and into your everyday TV experience.

Hillcrest's Loop is a sleek, circular device that allows you to control your PC—or your video experience when your PC is connected to your TV—by simply pointing at the screen and selecting what you want. The experience is similar to playing with the Wii. In fact, Hillcrest is suing Nintendo for patent infringement. A Hillcrest representative wouldn't comment on the suit, other than to say it is ongoing.

Microsoft's "Project Natal"

But what if you didn't need a Wii-mote or a Loop? Removing all handheld accoutrements is exactly what companies such as GestureTek, Softkinetic, and Canesta are working on. By raising their hands and orchestrating a series of predefined gestures, users can navigate menus, launch programs, and control the volume—everything on a TV.

Never one to let a trend pass it by, Microsoft is getting into motion control in a big way. The company unveiled its "Project Natal" () for its Xbox 360 console at E3 this year. The technology is still in the development stage, but Microsoft promises new levels of interactive game play and home entertainment control.

Control is something the average user will need more of. As content migrates from the web to the TV, the number of viewing options will increase exponentially. A standard remote control packed with buttons won't have the flexibility or power to wade through all the new content on your TV. The following example is overused, but think about the computer Tom Cruise used in Minority Report: Scan quickly through mountains of content by swiping hands left and right, then zoom in on photos or text. When you're just using your hands, you'll never again misplace your remote in the sofa.

But don't toss your remote out the window yet. The first generation of TVs with built-in gesture controls aren't due until the end of this year or the beginning of 2010. Until then, you can grab Hillcrest's Loop (for $99) to see what it's like when your TV talks to the hand.

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