TV remote works like computer mouse

January 13, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The way we interact with some consumer electronics is changing. Nintendo's Wii popularized a new way to control what's happening on the television screen. Now, television manufacturers are incorporating a similar technology into remotes.

The new remote works a little like Nintendo's Wii. Wii revolutionized game play with a controller that senses motion, so you don't have to point it at the screen to move an object on the screen. Why can't you do that to control everything on your television?

Once upon a time, all a television remote did was change the volume and change the channels. Then, the number of buttons multiplied. So fast, set makers off-loaded many of the functions into elaborate menus. The trouble is navigating through all those menus.

Image how it would be if your computer had no mouse and the only way you could move the pointer would be to use the arrow keys on the keyboard. That's still the way most remotes still operate -- with lots of buttons.

One solution was to put the menu screens inside the remote. The problem with that was that the remote grew to the size of a small TV. So the next step was to turn the remote into a pointer, much like a computer mouse.

"Over the course of the next several years, I believe, passionately, that the pointer will come to the television," says Andy Addis, Hillcrest Labs.

The idea is not new. The consumer electronics industry has been trying for more than a decade, but with little success.

"What's inhibited mass adoption of pointing technology (frankly, before the Wii) is that the technologies that they used didn't enable very fluid, intuitive use," says Addis.

For example, on a couch, you and I are likely to orient the remote all over the place. The new technology doesn't care. Up is always up, left is always left.

Hillcrest Labs has competitors, mainly gyroscopic remotes. It has to persuade manufacturers to incorporate its software into set-top boxes, because it is not just a widget, it's a system. Still, it's clearly a trend in the industry, and could become the one ring to rule them all.

It will probably be just as easy to lose it, but the shape might make fighting for the remote a little easier.