Archives For Remotes

Catching up with Hillcrest Labs

Dave Zatz —  January 15, 2010


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.


At ShowStoppers last night, I took a quick peek at L5’s iPhone universal remote control. The package consists of an IR transmitter/receiver with Apple dock connector and custom app, turning your iPhone into an AV remote. The app’s graphics are a bit old-school, but not offensive, and there appears to be tons of flexibility in terms of customization – various default remote types, room profiles, swipe to switch. Unlike a Harmony solution, there is no master cloud-based database of AV devices. Each remote button must be manually programmed/mapped, by pointing the iPhone+L5 at the remote you want to mirror. The L5 lands next month at a reasonably priced $50.

Beyond the WiFi-only iPhone Slingbox client ($30), neutered by Apple and AT&T, it’s been a very quiet year for Sling. No new retail products. Insignificant firmware and software updates to existing products. And fire sale SlingCatcher pricing. Combined with near radio silence, I figured EchoStar has been winding down the Sling line. However, all is not lost, as I received a CES invite earlier today that promises:

You’ll experience an up close view of Sling’s new placeshifting products including WiFi television, ultra-slim Slingboxes, and a next-generation touch screen device.

Of course, a WiFi television was shown at CES last year (pic above). Where it was pitched as a DISH Network accessory for Echostar’s yet-to-be-released “SlingLoaded” VIP 922 Echostar DVR. If I had to guess, that touchscreen device similarly accessorizes the 922 — as a Sonos-esque remote controller. I’m not entirely opposed to a slimmed-down Slingbox, but noticeably absent from this pitch is reference to a next generation Catcher… that lives up to its billing. Stay tuned, as I intend to find out more (with pics) next week in Vegas.


We’ve looked at quite a few remote controls in our day, but this is the first hand-powered one — no batteries required! The remote is a concept design by NEC and Soundpower, which obtains its power from the vibrations of your hand pressing the buttons.  Sort of a self-sustainable electronic device if you will. Unfortunately we won’t see anything like this in the near future, but it’s a very interesting concept nonetheless. Now if they could just make my phone battery-free…

Check out more of Brent’s reflections on tech, gadgets, software and media at Brent Evans Geek Tonic.


GlideTV Navigator is the latest entrant into the HTPC, over-the-top video remote control space. And, after several days with a review unit, two things have surprised me… in a very positive way.

First off,  I experienced none of the touchpad lag or jerkiness I’ve previously encountered using similar solutions such as the Zeevee box remote. And, in addition to typical finger tip control that you’d find on a laptop, GlideTV offers an optional ‘absolute’ mode where the touchpad represents your display: Touch the upper left of the sensor and your arrow/prompt/cursor appears in the upper left. Tap the center, see the cursor in the center. Etc. The touchpad itself, like the ones found in current Macbooks, is also clickable. Plus, it’s surrounded by an additional eight physical buttons. Without a doubt, this is the best remote touchpad I’ve used.


Secondly, after seeing the initial GlideTV press imagery, I was a bit skeptical of another two-handed remote. I want to efficiently control my devices without looking down, which is why I’ve never been a fan of tablet style touch screen solutions. But after a few days of use, I’m (partially) operating the GlideTV Navigator with one hand. And strangely, considering I’m right-handed, I’ve been using the remote in my left hand. It does require a certain amount of precision (and hopefully a 10′ UI with large buttons), but I’ve been trained well as a Call of Duty sniper.


The sculpted unit, with backlit buttons, is attractive — as is the matching charging base station. The RF USB receiver isn’t much to look at, but you’d most likely hang it off the back of your device. Speaking of which, Windows, Mac OS X, and the PS3 are supported. Although, your best bet is running Windows to utilize their web launchpad (shown up top) and virtual keyboard functionality (in the gallery below). (At least until the Alpha Mac software is made available in the next few weeks.) In lieu of their Java webtop, I preferred running Firefox on Windows in fullscreen/kiosk mode, having installed their FF plugin which facilitates text entry, to best enjoy web video. Of course, you can also control things like Boxee, Front Row, and SageTV* without using any GlideTV software at all.

What I can’t tell you is if the GlideTV Navigator is worth $150. Despite it’s solid performance and good looks (including beautiful packaging), one fifty seems a bit steep. (50% the cost of a PS3 you could be attaching it to. Or 75% of the cost of an iPod Touch which will run multiple virtual remotes.) Also, as anyone who maintains a HTPC will tell you, you can’t count of software devs to standardize on keyboard commands – which is ultimately how GlideTV interfaces with your computer using the standard HID protocol. From a consumer perspective, ignoring Glide’s need to profit, I’d prefer to see this product sold for $99. And see a higher-end unit, with tucked away QWERTY keyboard or even numeric keypad, occupying the $150 spot.


DVPRemote, which I originally came across back in August, has just received a substantial refresh. In addition to fundamental WiFi remote control of Roku’s media streamer ($99), the app author has worked closely with Roku to incorporate their graphics, enable auto-discovery (versus direct IP address entry), and add support for multiple units. I’ve had a preview copy of version 1.2 about a week and it operates as advertised. Grab it here for only 99 cents:  DVPRemote

i.TV, the premiere iPhone television guide and then some, is cooking up Roku remote support as well. The initial version out of their beta labs doesn’t include auto discovery, but i.TV has beefed up virtual remote functionality to support multiple (TiVo) units as requested. I played matchmaker between Roku and i.TV to get this remote going, which would explain my pre-release screengrabs below. Expect the free i.TV 2.1 to hit next month, but you can download the current release here: i. TV


Sonos Does Twitter

Mari Silbey —  September 4, 2009

Sonos controller Twitter

The Twitter Everywhere meme is popular this week, and Sonos joins in by announcing (via Twitter) that soon owners of the multi-room music streaming experience will be able to tweet from their Sonos controllers. The new feature empowers listeners to share artist tracks with one click, or edit automated tweets before publishing.

I love this experimentation phase for Twitter. I don’t know that I have any interest in regularly tweeting my musical tastes, or in accessing Twitter from devices that don’t give me the full conversational experience. However, the idea of using Twitter in broadcast-only or receive-only mode is certainly gaining traction. Like PiMPY, the tweeting washing machine, it suggests new possibilities for both lifecasting and automated data collection.

With regard to Sonos specifically, my guess is that the company’s customer base is music-obsessed and sophisticated enough to make the new Twitter function appealing. The application will work from both the new Sonos Controller hardware and and their iPhone app later this year.

Click to enlarge:


I didn’t realize that my little Roku ($99) video streaming box has an open network interface. Like TiVo, one simply needs to telnet into port 8080 of the Roku from a LAN to issue commands. The first practical implementation, which I discovered over on Hacking Netflix, is the 99 cent iPhone/Touch DVPRemote app which allows you to wirelessly control a Roku. I can’t say I have a great need for this functionality, but it’s a cool hack that appeals to the geek in me.

Related, i.TV recently updated their (free) multipurpose iPhone entertainment app. In addition to featuring the best horizontal grid guide, Netflix queue management, and TiVo scheduling they’ve begun building out a virtual remote framework. And TiVo is up first. I prefer their look and layout over DVR Remote. However, i.TV doesn’t yet support multiple TiVo units or offer virtual QWERTY keyboard macros – which is probably the top reason to augment the peanut.