What is it? Why, it's the new touch, according to its inventor, PrimeSense. But instead of touching the screen you wave at it.
Microsoft licensed PrimeSense's 3D sensor technology for use in the Kinect, and PrimeSense says it wants to see gesture control in all consumer electronics, and not just TVs. But the thing I don't understand is why I would want to wave at my telephone rather than touch it. Asus and Microsoft are experimenting with using gestures in their products, but as CNET editor Scott Stein says: why?
But PrimeSense wasn't the only company demonstrating gesture control. Samsung has struck out on its own for its gesture and voice control system. We had a secret "behind closed doors" demo that we can't really elaborate on yet, suffice it to say the two systems are very similar in execution. PrimeSense claims Samsung's system only uses one sensor versus two, which could mean Samsung's is less sensitive.
How does it work?
Navigating PrimeSense's demo involved sweeping gestures of the arm to move around menus and turn pages, and selecting items on a page involved a very slow and not-quite-intuitive plucking gesture. Though it seemed that the cameras were getting better at ignoring other people in the room, they were still subject to interference, and my time was plagued by people walking past behind me--requiring constant resets. If you live in a busy household, then you will probably find gesture control too frustrating to use for an extended period.
Based on all demos, we believe the technology is still too immature to replace existing control methods, as after 5 minutes we were begging for a remote control. Of course, their systems were very much still in development and will likely be further honed by the time they reach stores.
One example PrimeSense used did make sense to me, though: in-store advertising. If a store is closed, a Kinect-type system can let you browse a store's catalog from outside. Window displays outside of several electronics retailers are currently used to demonstrate the Kinect gaming system.
When compared with a good remote, no other TV control methods come close in terms of ease of use and speed. However, the problem with a remote is that it's terrible for navigating Web pages, and most smart TVs now feature Web browsing. With this in mind, I did fall in love with LG's Magic Motion remote almost instantly, with its Nintendo Wii-like pointer. I'm also intrigued by the Panasonic touch-pad remote which incorporates a touch pad for browsing. Voice control, available on select Samsung and LG TVs, is also a much more promising option.
But waving slowly and deliberately at your TV for hours on end? I'd rather flap my arms in a vain attempt to achieve flight.