The Future of Entertainment
Gesture-Based Remote Control
We love our mice, really we do. Sometimes, however, such as when we're sitting on the couch watching a DVD on a laptop, or when we're working across the room from an MP3-playing PC, it just isn't convenient to drag a hockey puck and click on what we want. Attempts to replace the venerable mouse--whether with voice recognition or brain-wave scanners--have invariably failed. But an alternative is emerging.
What is it? Compared with the intricacies of voice recognition, gesture recognition is a fairly simple idea that is only now making its way into consumer electronics. The idea is to employ a camera (such as a laptop's Webcam) to watch the user and react to the person's hand signals. Holding your palm out flat would indicate "stop," for example, if you're playing a movie or a song. And waving a fist around in the air could double as a pointing system: You would just move your fist to the right to move the pointer right, and so on.
When is it coming? Gesture recognition systems are creeping onto the market now. Toshiba, a pioneer in this market, has at least one product out that supports an early version of the technology: the Qosmio G55 laptop, which can recognize gestures to control multimedia playback. The company is also experimenting with a TV version of the technology, which would watch for hand signals via a small camera atop the set. Based on my tests, though, the accuracy of these systems still needs a lot of work.
Gesture recognition is a neat way to pause the DVD on your laptop, but it probably remains a way off from being sophisticated enough for broad adoption. All the same, its successful development would excite tons of interest from the "can't find the remote" crowd. Expect to see gesture recognition technology make some great strides over the next few years, with inroads into mainstream markets by 2012.
Radical Simplification Hits the TV Business
The back of most audiovisual centers looks like a tangle of snakes that even Medusa would turn away from. Similarly, the bowl of remote controls on your coffee table appeals to no one. The Tru2way platform may simplify things once and for all.
What is it? Who can forget CableCard, a technology that was supposed to streamline home A/V installations but that ultimately went nowhere despite immense coverage and hype? CableCard just didn't do enough--and what it managed to do, it didn't do very well. Enter Tru2way.
Tru2way is a set of services and standards designed to pick up the pieces of CableCard's failure by upgrading what that earlier standard could do (including support for two-way communications features like programming guides and pay-per-view, which CableCard TVs couldn't handle), and by offering better compatibility, improved stability, and support for dual-tuner applications right out of the box. So if you have a Tru2way-capable TV, you should need only to plug in a wire to be up and running with a full suite of interactive cable services (including local search features, news feeds, online shopping, and games)--all sans additional boxes, extra remotes, or even a visit from cable-company technicians.
When is it coming? Tru2way sets have been demonstrated all year, and Chicago and Denver will be the first markets with the live technology. Does Tru2way have a real shot? Most of the major cable companies have signed up to implement it, as have numerous TV makers, including LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. Panasonic began shipping two Tru2way TVs in late October, and Samsung may have sets that use the technology available in early to mid-2009.
Curtains for DRM
Petrified of piracy, Hollywood has long relied on technical means to keep copies of its output from making the rounds on peer-to-peer networks. It hasn't worked: Tools to bypass DRM on just about any kind of media are readily available, and feature films often hit BitTorrent even before they appear in theaters. Unfortunately for law-abiding citizens, DRM is less a deterrent to piracy than a nuisance that gets in the way of enjoying legally obtained content on more than one device.
What is it? It's not what it is, it's what it isn't--axing DRM means no more schemes to prevent you from moving audio or video from one form of media to another. The most ardent DRM critics dream of a day when you'll be able to take a DVD, pop it in a computer, and end up with a compressed video file that will play on any device in your arsenal. Better yet, you won't need that DVD at all: You'll be able to pay a few bucks for an unprotected, downloadable version of the movie that you can redownload any time you wish.
When is it coming? Technologically speaking, nothing is stopping companies from scrapping DRM tomorrow. But legally and politically, resistance persists. Music has largely made the transition already--Amazon and iTunes both sell DRM-free MP3s that you can play on as many devices as you want.
Video is taking baby steps in the same direction, albeit slowly so far. One recent example: RealNetworks' RealDVD software (which is now embroiled in litigation) lets you rip DVDs to your computer with one click, but they're still protected by a DRM system. Meanwhile, studios are experimenting with bundling legally rippable digital copies of their films with packaged DVDs, while online services are tiptoeing into letting downloaders burn a copy of a digital movie to disc.
That's progress, but ending all DRM as we know it is still years off. Keep your fingers crossed--for 2020.