Technology for televisions is advancing all the time, with TVs getting bigger, offering glasses-free 3D, and even being powered by bicycle these days. Sadly, the remote controls for operating TVs haven't advanced much past the "more features means more buttons" design that's been in place for years, forcing TV viewers to stare blankly at a monolithic array of controls just to find the one that changes the channel. Philips is looking to change that though with it's uWand remote, which lets users control Smart TVs with just three buttons and a few simple gestures.
The uWand functions very similar to the Nintendo Wii, with a point-and-click interface and movement-based controls. A small IR camera embedded in the uWand syncs to one or more beacons fitted on or near the television to track where it points and move a cursor to follow. Viewers can use the cursor to make menu selections, scroll through different options, shuffle through an on-screen photo album, or even control characters in a video game.
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Also like the Wii, the uWand makes use of simple hand gestures to interact with the screen. Users can tilt the remote to the side to cycle through menus and adjust the volume, or even move it around in a 3D space to interact with objects on the screen. All the movement is detected through the same camera-beacon connection, so there's no need for accelerometers or gyros. Some models may also include a QWERTY keypad on the other side to search for content or use with different apps.
We got some hands-on time with the uWand at IFA 2012 and found the system to be smooth and easy to use. The controller Philips provided had a D-pad in addition to the other buttons, but it didn't seem necessary for just watching TV and navigating menus. It was much easier and more natural to just tilt the remote to scroll through menus, then point at a selection and press an OK button. One thing to note though is that the technology on the demo unit was run by a separate computer on the back of the TV, rather than being embedded in the television itself.
Philips is still finalizing the design, but stated users may only need three buttons to use most of the uWand's features. Compare that to the dozens of buttons found on a typical universal remote, and you can start to see how convenient Philips' remote could be. Some models may however include a QWERTY keypad on the other side to search for content or use with different apps. The company is also looking into supplying the uWand technology to other manufacturers, so it may not necessarily be restricted to Philips products.
Check out the video below to see how the uWand could change how people interact with their televisions.