CableLabs Confab High On Virtual TV Remote Control

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Attendees at CableLabs Summer Conference 2009 on Monday voted a 3-D sensing system that uses an infrared camera to let a TV viewer interact with a set-top box or television -- including type on a virtual keyboard in midair -- as "the best new product idea."

Prime Sense, a semiconductor startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel, was picked as part of the Innovation Showcase at the conference, which featured presentations by 11 companies.

The Prime Sense device projects IR light into a room and then detects distortions in the field to allow for gestural controls, letting a TV viewer change channels or perform other actions without a physical remote control.

"We project a touch-screen out in space in front of the TV 10 feet, so you can use simple hand gestures to perform common actions," Suneil Mishra, Prime Sense's vice president of sales and marketing for North America, said on a conference call with reporters hosted by CableLabs.

The system, which connects to a set-top, TV or other device through a USB cable, can detect whether there's someone in front of the TV and potentially even identify individual users via facial-recognition software, he said.

Prime Sense has customers in the pipeline and expects to be shipping in volume as early as the fourth quarter of 2009, he added. The company has distributed 1,000 software-development kits for its system to consumer-electronics manufacturers.

Mishra said that what makes Prime Sense different from some other 3-D sensing systems was that it uses off-the-shelf hardware components while still providing accurate readings at 60 frames per second of video. That means the device can be manufactured for a comparatively low price point, of about $20 per unit, he said.

Prime Sense, founded in 2005, has received funding from Gemini Israel Funds, Genesis Partners and Canaan Partners. The company said it has filed several patents in the field of 3-D machine vision.

The other vendors presenting in the CableLabs Innovation Showcase were: Alcatel-Lucent, Verivue, Arris, Tandberg Television, Aerohive Networks, AudioCodes, Ceton, Elemental Technologies, FreedTV and Openet. Each presenting vendor was given nine minutes to demonstrate the service or technology in a "lightning-round" format.

The members-only CableLabs Summer Conference is taking place Aug. 9-12 in Keystone, Colo.

Past recipients of the "best product idea" recognition at CableLabs' tech conferences have included Verismo Networks' broadband-connected VuNow set-top that provides access to Web-video clips; Silicon Image's HD-optimized home-networking technology; Ruckus Wireless' 802.11n wireless technology; and Harmonic's IPTV over DOCSIS 3.0 demo.

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