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PrimeSense Makes a Cable Kinect-tion

Light Reading
LR Cable News Analysis
Light Reading
1/31/2011

Thousands of U.S. cable subscribers may soon be able to ditch their remote controls and rely on hand gestures to channel surf.

PrimeSense Ltd. , the Israeli company that built the motion-sensing technology that powers the popular Kinect device used by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Xbox 360, says it expects at least one U.S. cable MSO to deploy a product this year that will allow its subscribers to use hand gestures to navigate live TV, video-on-demand (VoD) content and other applications.

PrimeSense EVP of Business Development Uzi Breier told Light Reading Cable that operators are in line to deploy cameras that could be attached to existing set-tops via USB connections.

"2011 will be a year where multiple operators around the globe, including the U.S., will launch programs and start to bring to market solutions, and in 2012 we will go to mass quantity," Breier said.

PrimeSense is conducting tests with cable MSOs, Breier said, while declining to name which companies PrimeSense is working with.

In addition to pitching cable- and satellite-TV providers and telcos on its motion-sensing technology, Breier said PrimeSense is also talking directly to set-top manufacturers, television and home media center manufacturers and over-the-top video providers about licensing its technology.

"I think [deployments] will happen sooner than people think. This year you're not going to see millions of units -- I would say thousands of units, maybe tens of thousands of units," Breier said.

Breier wouldn’t discuss how much PrimeSense is charging pay-TV providers for its technology, or how much it would cost subscribers. But he said he expects some operators to offer motion-based navigation to help retain customers.

PrimeSense's motion-sensing camera will come with a set of applications. In addition to using it to navigate video content and control the volume on a TV, subscribers will be able to use their hands to flip through pictures and music. The product will also come with a set of games and a personal fitness trainer program, Breier said.

Breier said the PrimeSense TV navigation system is activated when a user initiates a gesture, noting that each provider can choose the specific gesture that would activate the user interface. Here's a video demo:



Even if multiple people are in the room, the device will only take commands from the person who activated the device, as long as that person keeps his hand raised. "As soon as they drop their hand, then someone else can take control," Breier added.

The motion-sensing technology could also be used by parents to control TV programming that their children can access, Breier said, noting that the technology can recognize which member of the household is trying to access it.

PrimeSense is also developing a t-commerce application that would allow clothing retailers to use its 3-D imaging technology to take the measurements of users standing in front of its infrared cameras, Breier said.

Comcast takes a peek
While no pay-TV providers have announced plans to deploy motion-based navigation systems, the technology is one of the trends that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) CTO Tony Werner remarked on after attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"It's unclear to me exactly where gesture-based command and control will be the most desirable -- it could be gaming, could be navigation, could be social interactions. It's still unclear, but the technology is maturing, and there's something there," Werner wrote on the Comcast blog.

It's not the first time Comcast and this kind of technology have been linked.

Comcast saw a backlash in 2008, following a report that SVP of User Experience and Product Design Gerard Kunkel mentioned that the MSO was experimenting with devices outfitted with cameras that could monitor video subscribers and play a role in delivering targeted ads.

Kunkel responded at the time by clarifying that the kind of technologies being reviewed were tied to TV navigation and the use of cameras to manage "much heralded gesture-based interactivity."

Still, all of those descriptions -- by Kunkel and the earlier report involving advertising opportunities -- do seem to tie into PrimeSense's potential and the kinds of things it has in mind for service providers.

Breier said PrimeSense is studying how its technology could be used by advertisers to measure how many people are in a room, and if they are watching a program. But he acknowledged that using cameras for advertising applications is a "delicate" topic that could raise questions about privacy, and he noted that it would be up to cable operators to decide how they want to use the technology.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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