Archive for January 9th, 2008

CES: Entering the point-and-click paradigm

I have a remote for my television set, DVD player, audio system and even one left over from the VCR days. As a result of my plethora of remotes, it often takes a good ten minutes and a lot of frustration to navigate between all the entertainment options. For this reason, I was especially excited to hear about software developer Hillcrest Laboratories’ news this week.

In conjunction with CES, Hillcrest announced it has secured an additional $25 million round of funding, led by new investor AllianceBernstein. Hillcrest said it will use the funds to further extend its pointer-based application creation platform and pointing technology to devices that control and display digital media.

As a start-up company seven years ago, Hillcrest has been in the development and innovation stages for the better part of its existence. Now as high-definition TV sets with higher resolutions improve the picture quality, encourage interactivity and new applications, 2008 is poised to be Hillcrest’s year to make it big.

In the fall, I spoke with Danny Briere, CEO of TeleChoice, who told me that Hillcrest is historically a favorite company of the analyst firm’s to follow because of the “insanely cool stuff” it develops. Specifically, he was referring to its sleek new air mouse that uses soft buttons on the TV set and an interface users navigate similar to the PC. Since insanely cool technologies are what CES is all about, I had to check it out for myself. Having done so, I wasn’t disappointed.

According to CEO Dan Simpkins, Hillcrest’s vision is to bring a new “‘point-and-click’ paradigm to the television and beyond” through its pointing technology, Freespace, which can be used in remote controls, PC mice, and game controllers. Parag Sheth, vice president of corporate marketing for Hillcrest, said that the traditional 100-button remote control will become a thing of the past as consumers want new ways to interact with all the content exploding today.

Hillcrest, which licenses its technology business to business to consumer electronic companies and service providers, is emphasizing two main differentiators in its pointer devices: efficiency of interaction – users can point anywhere on the screen without having to scroll, search or even aim at a particular point on the screen – and scalability of the presentation as users get access to hundreds of movie titles, their personal content, Internet services, games and traditional TV through spatial, contextual navigation.

The remotes are reminiscent of Nintendo’s Wii game-changing controllers that also require simply pointing and clicking. Sheth said that Hillcrest’s designs have some distinct advantages over the Wii, namely its Adaptive Tremor Removal. The technology gets rid of the natural tremor in user’s hand to allow for accuracy in pointing. Furthermore, it doesn’t require the level of activity that the Wii encourages. The devices works whether consumers hold the device upside as they lie on the couch, sideways or even if they are grabbing a drink in the other room. Using wireless RF technology, it doesn’t even have to be pointed at the TV set, STB or wherever the service provider opts to embed the software.

Steth said that we can expect service providers to begin marketing the technology in the summer of ‘08, and the company hopes to announce customers in the first half of the year. I, for one, am excited to see the industry reaction to this decidedly insanely cool new product.

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