Point of View: Taking control

Richard Stevenson waves his arms around at the thought of a gesture-controlled home cinema

I often wonder why I am not Tom Cruise. The obvious benefits of being minted, married to Katie Holmes and working with Cameron Diaz aside, I can see absolutely no reason why I am not yet controlling my home cinema system in true Minority Report style. Why am I still surrounded by a clutter of remote controls, rather than simply gesticulating with my fingers and issuing complex voice commands that simultaneously play Blu-ray, dim the lights and move the volume to ASBO level? There is no reason at all, other than the fact that, as yet, no manufacturer has pulled all these readily available technology components together.

Holographic menus? I stand amazed that the control menus of top-spec 3D TVs are still stoically 2D. Why not map them in 3D to show off the capabilities of the screen, AVR or source equipment? Imagine menu pages that rotate towards you and back into the screen? This style of menu could be simply controlled in 2D, but would really come alive in HD-quality 3D. C’mon manufacturers, even mapping standard GUIs in 3D would be nice.

Voice control? My three-year-old Nissan truck has comprehensive voice-controlled sat nav and phone hookup. The system is yet to get me totally lost or phone an ex-girlfriend by mistake. If I shout ‘nearest petrol station’, a sultry female voice duly guides me with to one of the government’s best tax-generating establishments (I admit that whispering, ‘put the bill on that bloke’s credit card over there’, hasn’t worked so far.). And the new Range Rover Evoque’s fully-integrated voice control commands everything bar turning the steering wheel. It is also a self-learning system that grows more accustomed to accents or phrases over time. 

But what about a gesture-based interface? To anyone who has used an Xbox 360 Kinect that is not a tough question. You can move items on screen, navigate menus and become immersed in interactive content with the wave of a hand. And this is first-generation motion-sensing technology! With more processing and better imaging devices (both readily available), a Kinect-like interface could map the movements of not just your hand but your fingers, thumbs, facial expressions and pretty much any forward-facing body part you care to employ interactively.

Bring these three components together and you have an AV interface that is straight out of Spielberg’s neo-noir classic. I grant you, setting up a complex AV system might look as if you were doing the Macarena on the sofa, but as I spend around 45 minutes everyday searching for remotes or batteries, this I can live with. Moreover, the interface could be used to interact with 3D content itself from BD-Live add-ons and camera angle swaps on Blu-ray to literally ‘hands-on’ control of 3D games.

So who will be the first AVR maker to turn me into Captain John Anderton, Cruise’s slick chief of Washington’s Pre Crime police force? I guess Pioneer. Or, more likely, a mix of Pioneer and Apple. Spending time with Pioneer’s amazing VSX-2012 last month, with its superb iPad control App and its fully intuitive interactive instruction manual, made me realise that the era of the black-stick remote control is nearly over. Pioneer supplies a remote just in case you are one of the three people left on the planet that doesn’t own an Apple device, but it is clearly a token gesture.It can’t be long now before the traditional AVR remote is an optional extra.

And to leave you on a thought to ponder – just imagine what full body-scanning gesture-mapping and interactive 3D content could do for the porn movie industry. Shudder.

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This column first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Home Cinema Choice