TVs Transform at This Year’s CES

No longer the passive box that just displays moving pictures, television just got a whole lot more interesting at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Three big stories that emerged from CES will change how you control your TV, where you get your video content from, and what you do with it.

No longer pushing buttons
Who wants to push buttons to control your TV when you can flick your wrist? Two new remote control technologies are emerging that use gestures instead of the traditional multi-buttoned remote. Hillcrest Labs, which has been working on a motion controlled remote, announced a partnership with Texas Instruments on a handheld that supports air pointing, similar to the Nintendo Wii. Hillcrest’s technology lets you control the TV by moving a remote up and down, and side to side. Here’s a demo video we shot of Hillcrest’s Freespace-based remotes at a tradeshow last year.

Or, you could dump a remote altogether and just wave your hands. That’s what a new Hitachi set does. Using a combination of technologies from chip company Canesta and aptly-named gesture-tracking software GestureTek, the Hitachi set has a sensor built in that creates a 3-D map of what’s in front of it. Wave your hand in front of the TV to turn it on. Swipe from side to side to control options, or use both arms to move through different menu functions. Think: the hand-controlled computer from the movie Minority Report. Here’s a video demo of the Hitachi TV in action.

Video content from everywhere
A big trend for TV manufacturers this year will be plugging their sets directly into the Internet, eliminating the need for an external set-top box to deliver content. Sony, Vizio and LG were just a few of the consumer electronics companies announcing that their TVs will be connected to the Internet and offer a much wider range of video options. Now, you won’t need to buy an additional box like a Roku or the recently-released Blockbuster box to directly rent movies from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Blockbuster, or to watch web video from YouTube (which will look pretty sweet now that it’s streaming in HD). That capability will be baked right into the set. Now, the trick will be making it easy to navigate through all of those video content choices.

Widgets were another buzzword from the CES show floor. All sorts of folks are working to bring widgets to your big screen. Yahoo and Intel are going to stream extra information, like sports stats and current weather, to on-screen widgets that run on your TV. And MySpace will be introducing a widget that will let you chat and send messages to your friends on the social network through your TV. Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said that her network could even start incorporating widgets into shows like Lost to provide extra clues about the mysterious island. But with all the scrolling text, and tickers that already appear on-screen — not to mention network logos and animated promos that crawl across the TV during programming — are widgets something that we really need? Evidently, people think so.

For years, the news about televisions was all about better pictures, bigger screens. Now it’s not just about how your TV picture looks, but what your TV can do. This, of course begs the question — do you really want your TV to do things? After all, the term “couch potato” wasn’t invented for nothing. But lazy viewers take note: many of these innovations will make it easier than ever to get more content than you ever dreamed of. So, drop that remote control, and wave hello to the future of television.

This article also appeared on