Friday, June 15, 2007

Better Laser Than Never

Patents abound for new ways to use your remote to select items on the telly. Joystick. Mouse/mousepad. Thumb wheel. Virtual keyboard. All of these items are nice, but they're traditional computer/gaming devices integrated onto a remote control.

Of course the touch screen has improved the way we interact with PDAs and phones, but we can't exactly use that for our TV sets. (Although it might be a good way to get people off the couch and move around the room periodically, we all know that product won't fly.)

But let's stick with the touch-screen theme and add a non-traditional component to your remote control. What if Sony integrates a visible (green or red) laser diode at the front of the remote next to the infrared diode that's already there? All I'm asking is for Sony to integrate a laser pointer into my remote.

People already know how to use a laser pointer. It has fast reponse time for power-up as well as for moving across the screen. It requires little power — that's a good thing because nobody wants to replace their remote batteries. It's footprint is small and is used in such a way that the remote won't have to be any bigger and the pointing device requires no real estate on the top of the remote. All big advantages over the other point/select devices.

Now the hard part. How do you actually use it? Push a small button on the remote to turn the laser pointer on. While still pushing the power button, point the remote so the red (or green) dot appears on the appropriate item on the screen. To select the item, double press the power button like you would double click a mouse. When you're done, simply release the power button and the laser pointer turns off. This technique should make it easy to use — one button operation so there are no difficult finger or hand manipulations — and safe — it has the same use model as existing laser pointers for power up/down and they've already passed safety checks.

So far you're been able to use your remote to select something on the telly screen, but nothing has been communicated to the TV. Your television just doesn't know you're trying to communicate. It's like using your mouse on your computer to select links in Internet Explorer even though IE won't let you navigate to those pages.

Now the harder part. How does the TV know where the red dot was located? That's why I mentioned Sony earlier and not Scientific Atlanta. Something has to change on your TV, and there are a variety of ways to locate the red dot. For instance, Sony can embed small sensors for each pixel or group of pixels. There are many more clever ways of doing this task and I'll leave it to the experts to figure out the best.

Once you have laser pointer capability though, the options are endless. Imagine drawing a box around something on the screen and having your TV zoom into that area. You can use the laser pointer as a stylus to write letters just as you do now on your PDA. You'll be able stop the image, use drawing tools to modify the image, write a funny caption and then e-mail that still shot to a friend. Try doing that with a joystick!

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