Catching up with Hillcrest Labs


My last stop on the CES marathon last week was with Hillcrest Labs. Although, they’re a DC metro company, the only place I ever seem to see them is in Vegas. In fact, Josh Goldman, former CEO of former Akimbo, first introduced me to Hillcrest Labs back at CES 2007 when I told him I hadn’t yet seen anything cool at the show. Back then, Hillcrest had a single prototype product in The Loop — a motion-controlled remote, demo-ed with a custom onscreen UI. At the time, it seemed the plan was to partner with set-top box manufacturers to distribute The Loop. And other than the occasional tech demo, things appeared quiet for some time. Until Hillcrest’s Freespace technology, consisting of MEMS chips and an accelerometer, started showing up in other devices like Logitech’s MX Air Mouse and the remote for Kodak’s DMA.

And things have really started picking up for Hillcrest in the last few months. First off, they sued Nintendo for Wiimote patent infringement. And while Hillcrest’s rep couldn’t discuss the matter, some Googling has turned up a probable Nintendo licensing deal that settled the matter in August. Just as noteworthy, perhaps more, Hillcrest has licensed their Freespace technology to Universal Electronics, Inc (UEI) – the (largest?) manufacturer and reseller of remote controls. The fruits of that labor are now available (to set-top partners) in the form of the nicely contoured, and more traditional-shaped, Dolphin remote (pictured above) which transmits signals via RF. However, at CES, the two companies have also announced support for Bluetooth.


At the show, I played with both the Dolphin and The Loop — which is now available at retail for $99 and currently compares most favorably in function and price with GlideTV ($150) as a means of HTPC remote control. I still find The Loop’s design a bit awkward, but it’s qite unique and the scroll wheel complements the motion control very nicely. However, the Dolphin’s traditional remote form feels more natural. Both products are easier and more precise to control than the Wiimote, given Freespace’s “adaptive tremor cancellation” technology.

2 thoughts on “Catching up with Hillcrest Labs”

  1. How does the Dolphin compare to TiVo’s peanut for comfort?

    The motion-controlled remote aspect doesn’t do much for me. A good pointer or directional pad seems easier and more efficent to me than pointing all over the UI. I guess if it was done right (and how much do you trust or STB provider to do *that*), it could be okay, but I se it easily becoming a contrived pain-in-the-butt.

    Even some aspects of the Wii wave and click bug me, although the game play aspects of motion control are wonderful.

  2. The Dolphin was surprisingly comfortable. And it’s certainly a better solution than say the touchpad remote I played with at CES 2009 that was proposed for the DISH 922s DVR. Instead of moving your whole arm, you merely need to pivot your wrist a bit. But you’re right – how well it works it largely dependent on what’s on the other side (UI).

    Also interesting, I’m wondering if Josh Goldman is done with all motion remotes… Just saw his tweet from CES: Worst new craze: Gesture-based TV remote controls. awful!

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