HAL Wants You To Ditch The Remote And Smarten Up Your TV

The original HAL 9000‘s problems from 2001: Space Odyssey¬†were definitely bugs, not features. Thankfully, the guys at Why Remote reinvented our favorite sentient AI psychopath, HAL, to control your television with hand gestures and voice commands, encouraging you to shun your remote. Apart from letting you change channels and adjust volumes with Jedi-style hand waves, HAL also plans to become a comprehensive home entertainment hub, as well as a Siri-esque personal assistant

It might seem gimmicky at first because the remote as we know it works fine, but if HAL’s motion and voice detection makes it faster and easier than a remote to perform basic TV functions, using hand gestures and voice commands could easily turn from novelty to second nature. I saw some basic hand gestures and voice commands being demoed at HAL’s CES booth, such as channel changing and volume adjustments, and I was impressed. You’ll also be able to ask HAL to jump to a channel by name or number, record shows, and ask when TV shows will come on.


HAL’s home screen.

HAL is more than a remote killer. Users will be able to interact with HAL’s features through a seemingly Windows 8 inspired interface. I’m glad to see that it will support media streaming, outputting at 1080p with plans of upscaling to 4K resolution, and even 5K. The most notable media apps to work with HAL to date are Netflix, Pandora, Hulu and Flixster, which is a good start. For the streaming buffs, HAL will be able to stream at the 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency.

Will Smith gets upset when Christian Bale calls

HAL receiving a call. Will Smith gets upset when Christian Bale interrupts his movies.

Other features include Facebook, Skype, email, playing Angry Birds/Fruit Ninja/games with hand gestures, making and receiving calls, asking HAL questions, like “how do I tie a tie?” and setting reminders.

In terms of connectivity, HAL seems to be making all the right moves. Users will be able to stream personal media libraries, including music and video, by connecting phones, tablets, and computers via Bluetooth, thus eliminating remotes AND wires. I’ll be interested to see how well this feature works as many media streamers are too proprietary (Apple TV, Chromecast), don’t support enough media formats (Roku), or simply don’t play well with other devices (XBox One).

HAL is addressing the need for a reasonably priced device that combines cable TV integration with popular media streaming, such as Netflix, all without adding another remote. And if it takes away the TV and cable remote, even better! The only device that does all those things is the XBox One, which costs $500, not to mention the required $60/year XBox Live Gold membership. That’s a little steep if all you want is the home entertainment part of XBox. At $199, and without the need for costly subscriptions (not counting 3rd party subscriptions), HAL could be especially interesting for those who were tempted by XBox One’s entertainment capabilities, but had no interest in the gaming aspect. Those looking to buy Apple TVs and Rokus should keep a close eye on HAL, especially when it gets support for HBO and Showtime. HAL is set for a Fall 2014 release.