Show of Hands: Gestures Control Hitachi TV

Fighting over the remote could get a lot more brutal in the years to come. At CES today, Hitachi is showing off its gesture-based television. That’s right, you use your hands — no remote required. But will this tech — essentially cameras installed in TV that monitor your moves — scare people off?

Here’s a video demo of the Hitachi TV in action from a Japanese trade show last fall:

Two companies were influential in the creation of Hitachi’s gesture-controlled TV. Canesta provided the single-chip-based 3-D sensors, and GestureTek created the software.

Hitachi’s TVs will have Canesta’s sensors built into them, looking out at the room, collecting a 3-D image of everything it sees. Having this depth of field is key to getting the gesture technology to work, as a 2-D sensor might not be able to tell the difference between your real hand and one printed on your T-shirt. This detailed 3-D look allows the Canesta chip allows the TV to see when you stick out your hand to control the TV. It also is able to recognize different people in the room.

But recognizing you is only half of the equation. The fittingly-named GestureTek provides the software that translates those gestures to control the TV. According to Gesturetek, the movements have to be simple enough that anyone can do them, and they need to be consistent across devices so people don’t have to make a mental leap switching from, say, an iPhone to their TV — and the gestures need to be culturally sensitive. (Evidently a wave in China is different than other parts of the world). There are also alternative methods for controlling the TV, in case people are physically prevented from doing so.

For the Hitachi set, a users wave their hand to bring up the control bar, spin their wrist to activate a scroll wheel, swipe left and right to move through options, and use two hands to switch to a different function (check out the video demo, embedded above, to see for yourself).

At NewTeeVee Live last November, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings waxed on about the coming wave of gesture remotes that will control our entertainment. The concept isn’t new. Nintendo uses them for the Wii, and Hillcrest Labs (which is suing Nintendo) has developed motion-controlled TV remotes as well. But Hitachi’s set gets rid of the remote altogether. (I guess instead of “hands-free” you’d call it “hands-up”?)

According to GestureTek, sensors in the TV will also be able to recognize different members of the family, and bring up content associated with that person. While that may be a timesaver, it made me think of a story we did last year on Comcast experimenting with similar technology. The resulting avalanche of comments we got made it pretty clear that users didn’t want the cameras in the cable box watching them back. GestureTek said that, at first, it used a normal web cam to track movements, but Hitachi felt that people’s fears would make it not viable. The current sensor technology can tell people in a small group apart, but not pick one out person from millions of people.

The price and availability of the gesture-controlled Hitachi haven’t been revealed yet. But raise your hand if you want one.

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