Virtual Remote Wins Huzzahs

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The hottest demo at CableLabs' conference earlier this month was a device that lets you change a channel with the flick of your wrist.

Attendees of the CableLabs Summer Conference 2009 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 mid-air — as “the best new product idea.”

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

The Prime Sense device projects infrared light into a room and then detects distortions in the field to provide a means of gestural control. The system lets a TV viewer change channels or perform other actions without a physical remote control.

Prime Sense

“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,” Prime Sense vice president of sales and marketing for North America Suneil Mishra 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, Mishra added. The company has distributed 1,000 software-development kits for its system to consumer-electronics manufacturers.

What makes Prime Sense different from some other 3-D sensing systems, Mishra said, is 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, Arris, Tandberg Television, Aerohive Networks, AudioCodes, Ceton, Elemental Technologies, FreedTV Systems, Openet and Verivue.

Each presenting vendor was given nine minutes to demonstrate the service or technology in a “lightning-round” format. The members-only conference took place Aug. 9 to 12 in Keystone, Colo.

Past recipients of the “best product idea” recognition at CableLabs' tech conferences have included Verismo Networks' broadband-connected 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 IP video over DOCSIS 3.0 demo.