For the amount of money people spend today on large LCD TVs, it is sad there isn’t much difference in what they are used for compared to TVs 20 years ago.
The LCD TVs we buy today are still “dumb” out of the box. Yes some functionality has been added for connecting to smart devices with USB and using DLNA but consumers have not enthusiastically engaged in using them. Most applications are limited to extending the media experience from a smart device to the large screen.
Google TV, Apple TV, and other devices and apps like Boxee have failed in their attempt to integrate content from the Internet well enough to generate huge interest from consumers. Microsoft Kinect has been able to transform the game console experience of interacting with the TV, however not much beyond feedback and game controller function.
But there must be a user experience waiting out there that blends broadband PC/Internet experience, multi-touch tablet experience, and traditional TV and game experience in a superior way. More than just some hardware you need a flexible OS. Currently I connect my Windows 7 PC to my TV using a long HDMI cable. However adding multi-touch to Windows 7 would just lead to a painful experience.
But what about the new Microsoft Surface using Samsung SUR40 display with their “PixelSense Technology”? At $8900 each this won’t be coming to most homes anytime soon. And with the obscure “Surface” OS there will be very limited applications to utilize.
So, will we see products that can bring a “Minority Report” user experience or better to homes and business in 2012?
Rather than wildly speculate on a new Apple TV that Steve Jobs hinted at with his “cracked the code” quote in the recent biography, we will look at how existing and recently announced products can come together for a great smart TV experience.
“Cotton Candy” is an unbelievable small USB stick device that has processing power of the latest high end tablets. With an HDMI connector on one end it can support full 1080p resolution on large TVs. What is extremely wonderful is Cotton Candy also amazingly includes Wifi and BT wireless radio support. Wifi allows for a modular, easy to integrate, multi-touch solution without need of mechanical connection.
So what about multi-touch? Is there a simple solution that supports a high quality user experience that costs a lot less than the $8900 Microsoft Surface?
I have seen a few multi-camera solutions demonstrated. Two or more images taken from cameras on the corners of the display and are processed to determine finger location. This would be very low cost and support after market products as well. However the experienced quality beyond two fingers use is problematic, due to fingers obscuring one another in both camera views. Maybe there is some innovation out there for a camera solution that is both technically and cost feasible, but I have not seen it yet.
I have recently found an interesting concept that likely has the right cost, low profile form factor, and performance when it is “productized” to succeed.
The “Zero Touch” device first demonstrated at the Computer Human Interface conference in Vancouver last May, looks like it has the right stuff. It is capable of resolving more than 20 touch points using sensors embedded in a low profile frame. The user experience could potentially exceed the iPad and on a much larger display. How quickly it will become “productized” and for what market first is not clear. Based on a brief white paper published by the inventor Jonathan Moeller, the solution uses “low cost modulated infrared sensors”. Assuming no incredibly difficult precision manufacturing is involved, the solution should be very cheap to build indeed.
When you put ‘Cotton Candy’ concept together with Zero Touch the result will not be sticky fingers, but it could create a relatively low cost solution to turn TV’s into incredible touch user experience. Leveraging ubiquitous OS like Android and potentially Windows 8 could create whole new experiences with TVs in 2012.