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The Loop--A Cool New Freespace Optical Remote Control, Coming to Your PC/TV Soon

The Loop--A Cool New Freespace Optical Remote Control, Coming to Your PC/TV Soon
As an analyst I am regularly introduced to cool new gadgets and technologies. A couple of year ago while I was with Gartner I was introduced to Hillcrest Labs and “The Loop,” a freespace 3-D optical pointing device and associated visual interface platform for TV service providers. It was developed by the Maryland-based start-up and originally targeted to cable and telco service providers as the next generation solution for search and navigation. I liked it so much I christened them a “Cool Vendor for 2006” with all the perks and benefits therein.

While TV service providers’ electronic program guides are still mostly mired in the morass of the linear grids, struggling to figure out how to make the leap to integrated search and navigation using visual mosaics for depicting content options, Hillcrest Labs has been way ahead of the curve with an innovative solution that makes searching for any and all content available on the TV not only easy and intuitive, but also fun. By using “The Loop” you’ll be introduced to a radically different way to navigate digital content on the TV, using a round shaped in-air mouse/pointing device that uses just four buttons and a scroll wheel. Brilliant, I say, just what I need to free me from the awful clutter of buttons on my remote control.

Its three main elements were:
• An easy to use freespace pointing device
• Visual directories that let users view graphical depiction of all the content on your TV, including video-on-demand (VOD), digital video recordings (DVR), personal media (music/audio, photo and video), and Internet-delivered content; and
• Unified content portal that manages all the “metadata” behind the content

While the original deal was to sell the whole interactive media system for TV (called HoME) software and motion control hardware solution to telco and cable TV operators, they didn’t bite for a number of reasons, not the least of which were their own in-house development efforts for interactive EPGs, and the need for more processing power and memory in the tens of millions of first generation legacy digital cable set-top boxes that would be required to handle the video mosaics integral to its graphical user interface. Telco/IPTV providers here in the U.S. were also already locked into their TV interfaces supplied by Microsoft or their own home grown guides. So don’t look for this solution on your TV set anytime soon if you’re a cable or telco TV subscriber.

But the idea for was just too good to keep out of the market, so the Loop pointer is back and now available for the first time as a standalone consumer electronics device for use with TVs connected to a PC. Priced at $99, it is available at or directly from the company’s own website . Hillcrest is targeting the consumer, business and education markets.

Hillcrest is smart to approach the CE industry and independent over the top service providers that don’t have large base of legacy technologies to deal with and that can take leverage all its platform’s technology advantages. Hillcrest is in trials with Zillion TV which plans to launch a movie and TV on-demand service that will be marketed through Broadband Service Providers.

Applications and Uses for the Loop
The Loop pointer comes with a small, USB 2.0 transceiver that comes that plugs direcly into a compatible computer or device. No special driver software is required. What’s really cool about the device is that it is highly sensitive and precise--allowing users to point to individual pixels on a high-resolution screen--and it doesn’t require line of sight to operate, unlike conventional Infrared devices and optical motion-sensing devices. Instead, the Loop pointer uses RF (radio frequency) technology, with a range of up to 30 feet, so there’s no need to point directly at the computer or TV screen.

Primary uses include:

Mouse for TV: which requires connecting a PC-to-TV or Mac-to-TV. The Loop becomes an in-air pointer for access to online video, photo, and music sites, etc. Using standard on-screen keyboards included with Windows or Mac operating systems, people can enter search terms, passwords, etc.

Presenters: business people, educators or anybody else who uses PowerPoint to make presentations can use the Loop pointer. The highlight of its capabilities here is the ease with which its lets users switch between the presentation, web pages and other applications while walking around a conference room or lecture hall.

Hillcrest’s Chad Lucien, VP of Freespace Products, told me that he sees the presenter market as a particular strong target for their technology. Laser pointers do not address mixed media very well he said, so if you are making a presentation and need to toggle back and forth between a presentation slide deck to a website URL or click on a video, laser pointer are essentially useless. In addition, laser pointers directed at LCD screens can be difficult to see versus the Loop’s cursor.

The Loop can also be used as a fully functioning alternative controller with KODAK Theatre HD Player to interact with pictures, videos and music; as a complementary device to navigate the Internet using PS3’s web browser; and with Apple TV for users have a TV Flash, from Fire Core (version 3.6), will be able to use the Loop pointer to navigate content on the device and the TV Flash web browser.

I don’t know if I’d buy one myself right now, as I don’t regularly play video games with a PS3 or attach my PC to the TV for Internet video streaming or downloads. And while a device without a meaningful interface may not be that interesting to some people, I still think the Loop is a fantastic device. I encourage you to check it out.

Now I just wish TV service providers would think so too.

Loop Pointer Specifications

• Diameter: 4.8 inches (approximately the size of a CD or DVD)
• Width: 1.2 inches
• Weight: 4.9 ounces
• Color: Black with silver buttons
• Connectivity: USB 2.0 antenna with built in RF (radio frequency transceiver)
• Power supply: 2 AA batteries (included)

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