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Looking for a gesture-controlled TV?

Posted: 19 Dec 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:user interface  remote controls  gesture-operated TVs  image sensor 

A perfect man-machine interface is the never-ending quest for consumer electronics (CE) designers.

Expect a gesture-controlled large-screen TV to emerge in 2009. The goal here—sought after by big CE companies like Panasonic, Hitachi and Toshiba—is to enable consumers, simply by waving a hand at the screen, to turn the TV on or off, switch channels, or browse multiple video windows on display and select one. No remote needed.

The CE industry has in the past fiddled with a number of user-interface technologies. They include a good-old infrared remote, mouse, keyboard, joystick, track ball, on-screen 'carousel', 'wheel', and even a magic wand with an accelerometer. And let's not forget Microsoft's ludicrous Bob (1995), a "social interface" on Windows 3.1, hosted by annoying little cartoon characters. Finally, there is the voice-controlled user interface—always touted as the next "UI paradigm."

But why is the industry looking for gesture-controlled TV now?

There are two key drivers. Remote controls have grown increasingly complex and harder for anyone to operate. Second, today's large-screen TVs can display multiple video windows simultaneously on one screen, but they demand a more intuitive tool for consumers to navigate.

Various hand gesture-operated TV demos have shown that a user could rotate an image, move one of the video windows to the side, or zoom in or out of video on the screen, simply by changing hand movements (circling, moving to left or right, or forward/backward).

Sensors are the underlying enabling technologies.

Panasonic, for example, has developed a new image sensor unit consisting of a near infrared LED, a special charge-coupled device (CCD) and a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

Panasonic's image sensor unit detects gestures by measuring "time of flight" (the time it takes for the near infrared light to hit an object and its reflected light to return to the CCD image sensor module). Each "time of flight" is measured per pixel. Its cumulative data calculates the distance, capturing the depth information of the gesture at real time.

Hitachi's 'gesture-controlled TV' allows a simple wave of the hand to turn it on; up and down gestures to activate a menu display; and making circles in the air to adjust volume.

Hitachi also demonstrated a gesture-controlled TV. Hitachi's image sensor is set up to best recognise gestures when the user stands at a distance of two to three meters from the TV.

Can a gesture-controlled TV create a better and more intuitive user interface? Once these products start rolling out in 2009, we will know more if the new technology can convince consumers to release their grip on the remote.

-Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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