Television remote controls haven't changed a great deal since they were invented. The first generation looked pretty much like they do now, but were often connected to your equipment with a wire. Imagine that. A wired remote control. As silly as that sounds, it's actually slightly more implausible that no one has ever tried to improve the usability of the trusty hoofer-doofer, until now.
To get the ball rolling, Philips has spent considerable time and effort developing a new type of remote control designed to change how we interact with our TVs. Called uWand, it's exactly that -- a wand -- which you use to move through your TV's menu systems.
When you see it in action, you'll be reminded of the Nintendo Wii remote, and that's a fair parallel to draw. The major differences come with the fine detail. The Wii controller is designed for playing games, something that's obvious when you try to use it to press buttons in the console's menus, which is fiddly and annoying. The uWand is much smoother. The cursor doesn't jump about all over the place, and grabbing hold of things in the menus is really quite simple.
The uWand seems to have come at the right time. TVs these days are dominated by menu systems, especially for using the programme guides. On a normal remote, navigating through listings requires countless button presses, and is quite a pain to use. The uWand simplifies that by letting you scroll with a twist of the controller and select items to see in more detail with a large OK button, one of only three physical controls on the remote.
What's more, you can record a programme by dragging the name of the show from the EPG to a little drop zone elsewhere on the screen. This makes recording things much faster than messing around with arrow keys and buttons.
The controller we used had a Wii-style sensor bar that feeds back information to the remote about positioning. Philips tells us when it makes its way into TVs, it will simply be integrated into the bezel. The remote communicates via RF at the moment, but by the end of this year, it will be able to use Bluetooth too.
We applaud the re-thinking of the remote control. TVs have changed so much in the last ten years, it feels daft not to let the controller evolve too. As TVs get more interactive with services such as Panasonic's VieraCast, the arrow-key paradigm just won't cut the mustard anymore. And while we're sure most people are happy with their existing remotes, when they use the uWand, we think they'll be persuaded it's a compelling alternative.
Philips won't be keeping this technology to itself -- any TV manufacturer can licence it. The endgame hopefully being that we'll soon be able to interact with all our new TVs in an entirely new and much more logical manner. While Philips has developed the hardware, user interface design will be handled by the TV manufacturers. Philips was also keen to point out that the uWand is well-suited to navigating around a 3D environment too.
Whatever happens, we were impressed by how easy the remote was to use. The navigation was logical and easy to learn. It wasn't long before we were scrolling through TV listings, dragging our favourite shows over to the 'record this' icon and generally whizzing about. It's hard to say what the general public will make of uWand, but we can't see anyone hating the simplicity that it brings.
Click through for a few more pics showing how the uWand works.
Three buttons are all you'll find on this sample remote. How other manufacturers chose to implement this system is entirely up to them, and it may just end up being integrated into more traditional-looking remotes.