Hillcrest Labs to Sell its Loop Remote Control Directly to Consumers as an "In-Air Mouse for TV"

--Company, whose Customers Include ZillionTV, UEI, Says its Primary Focus Will Continue to Be B2B

Rockville, Maryland-based Hillcrest Labs (note: last year, the company announced that it had secured $25 million in a fourth round of funding--see [itvt] Issue 7.58 Part 1; it has raised a total of approximately $50 million to date) announced Monday that it is now selling its Loop remote control (or "pointer," as Hillcrest prefers to call it) directly to consumers as an "in-air mouse for TV," targeting what the company says is the growing number of people who are connecting their PC or Mac to a television set in order to access over-the-top video (note: according to data derived from a recent Consumer Electronics Association cited by Hillcrest, over 7 million US households have connected a personal computer to their home television sets).

The Loop--which is available for $99 through Amazon.com or through Hillcrest's own Web site (hillcrestlabs.com/loop)--allows users to navigate programming menus and online content using just four buttons and a scroll wheel. It was originally developed as a concept product to showcase the company's flagship Freespace in-air pointing and motion-control technology. (Note: Hillcrest bills Freespace as enabling pay-TV operators and consumer electronics manufacturers to embed motion control and pointing capabilities into a wide range of devices--including PC mice and game controllers, in addition to TV remotes--and form factors. It offers it in conjunction with an application-creation platform, called HoME, which it bills as allowing "digital content from any source to be displayed on a television using a graphical, zoomable user interface that can be embedded in a wide range of consumer electronic devices.") "As our flagship Freespace product design, the Loop pointer has captured the imagination and interest of most people who have used it," Hillcrest founder and CEO, Dan Simpkins, said in a prepared statement. "Although today we are introducing our first product directly to the public, at our core, we remain a software and IP licensing company."

In order to use the Loop remote control, consumers must first plug a small USB 2.0 transceiver that comes with the product into a compatible computer or device. As with a conventional mouse, no special driver software is required in order to use it on either a PC or a Mac, Hillcrest says. Possible applications for the device that are listed by Hillcrest include:

  • "Mouse for TV": consumers who connect a PC or Mac to their television set can use the device as an "in-air pointer," Hillcrest says. According to the company, when using the device they can hold it "in any position, and control their favorite online video sites, photo sites, music sites and more." If they want to enter URL's, search terms or passwords, the company says, they can use the "standard on-screen keyboards that are include with the Windows or Mac operating systems."
  • Presentations: PowerPoint users "how have a more useful and eye-catching tool for use with keynotes, company presentations or lectures," Hillcrest says. The company claims that the device makes it easy to switch between presentations, Web pages and other applications, "all while walking around the conference room or lecture hall."

In addition, according to the company, the Loop can be used:

  • In conjunction with the Kodak Theatre HD Player: consumers can use the Loop as a "fully functioning alternative controller to interact with pictures, videos and music, and more," Hillcrest says.
  • In conjunction with the PS3: while the Loop "is not a game controller for PS3," the company says, it can be used to navigate the Internet using the PS3's built-in Web browser.
  • In conjunction with Apple TV: while Apple TV does not support mouse controllers, the company says, consumers who use version 3.6 of Fire Core's aTV Flash can use the Loop to navigate content on the device and navigate content on the Internet using the aTV Flash Web browser.

According to Hillcrest, its Freespace technology enables a number of capabilities in the Loop, including:

  • High accuracy: the company claims that the device allows users to point to individual pixels on a high-resolution screen.
  • Orientation compensation: regardless of the Loop's orientation in space, the company says, Freespace generates intuitive cursor motions on the screen. According to Hillcrest MEMS (stands for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) sensors, combined with the company's proprietary software, enable consistent control of the device from any position, whether the user is standing, sitting or reclining.
  • Adaptive tremor removal: the company claims that its technology can distinguish between intentional and unintentional movement, including natural hand tremors. Instead of filtering out the entire range of human tremor, which would reduce the Loop's accuracy, the company says, the device dynamically measures each user's specific tremors and other unintentional movements and removes them.
  • No line-of-sight: unlike conventional infrared remotes and optical motion-sensing devices that require line-of-sight operation, Hillcrest says, the Loop uses radio frequency technology, so that users do not need to point directly at the computer or TV screen. According to the company, this means that the device will work at a range of up to 30 feet from the computer that it is controlling, and that that computer could be stored in a media cabinet, if the user desires.

According to Hillcrest, Freespace can be licensed by companies as a complete hardware and software platform. Companies that have licensed it to date include Eastman Kodak, Logitech, UEI and the new studio-backed over-the-top-TV service, ZillionTV. Hillcrest, which has around 40 issued patents (it claims to have filed over 190 to date), last year announced that it had filed a complaint for patent infringement with the US International Trade Commission and also filed a separate patent infringement lawsuit in the US District Court in Maryland against Nintendo. The complaint and lawsuit claim that Nintendo's Wii video game system infringes on three Hillcrest patents (US #'s 7,158,118, 7,262,760, and 7,414,611) which describe technologies for a handheld three-dimensional pointing device, and on US patent #7,139,983, which describes a navigation interface display system that graphically organizes content for display on a television.

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