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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 9, 2007 9:31 AM

Remotes, remotes, everywhere remotes

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- If the University of Washington really wants to make waves with its robotics research, it ought to start embedding TV and stereo remote controls into people's bodies.

Remotes seem to be one of the hot categories at CES this year, along with devices to store and stream digital content in the home. Plus there's the usual array of thinner phones and better TVs.

I recently reviewed the Logitech Wireless DJ, a $250 Bluetooth remote that streams music from a PC to stereos. I'd expect that price will come down pretty quickly because other companies are going after the same category with less expensive devices they're displaying here at the show.

Philips has a particularly nice pair of audio-streaming remotes that work with either a PC or an iPod. Like the Wireless DJ, they have small screens that display song information like an iPod, and they use radio technology that works through walls so you can use them throughout the house.


BRIER DUDLEY
Philips' music-streaming remote control with iPod dock.


But the Philips remotes will also control TVs, so you'll only need one remote for audio and video; they have full color displays; and they're cheaper. Doug Kent, the product manager, told me they'll sell for about $179 starting in August or September.

What makes this category of remote really interesting is that they also function as media streaming devices that connect music stored on computers to audio systems.

Hi-fi companies are also doing this with all sorts of new receivers on display at the show. Many now have USB and Ethernet ports, and some have wireless accessories and iPod docks. But they tend to cost $500 or more, and they generally have much worse remote controls.

Philips also displayed a standard but wacky remote that looks like a "flip" cellphone, or a Star Trek communication device. To access the buttons on the SRU4060, you have to flip up the lid, but it does control up to six different devices.


The Philips "flip-phone" remote.


Remotes will also get interesting if you use Windows Vista as the heart of your home entertainment system.

Vista has a cool technology called Sideshow that displays information like album and song lists on a small secondary PC display. Toshiba and other laptop makers are putting these little screens on the outside of laptops, so you can see messages and other snippets of information without firing up the system.


Display of remote controls and other Sideshow devices in Microsoft's booth.


Sideshow is also being used by a number of consumer electronics companies to build slick two-way remotes that display media collection information. About a dozen models are displayed in Microsoft's booth.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.