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PointGrab webcam gesture controls coming to ultrabooks and Windows 8 (hands-on)

PointGrab webcam gesture controls coming to ultrabooks and Windows 8 (hands-on)


PointGrab announced today that its webcam-based gesture control software will be preloaded on ultrabooks and will be updated with new controls for Windows 8.

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It's likely that you've never heard of PointGrab, but the company's software is used on many different laptops, all-in-ones, smart TVs, tablets, and phones for those (often silly) gesture controls that manufacturers bundle in. The reason why you haven't heard of the company is because OEMs rebrand the software — something that's continuing today with the news that PointGrab is going to be commercially available on yet-to-be-revealed ultrabooks from several well-known manufacturers. Additionally, the program has been updated for use on Windows 8 with new gestures to help wrangle Metro.

We had the opportunity to play with a beta version of the new Windows 8 software, and while we've always been very skeptical of the utility of laptop gesture controls, it's hard not to be a little impressed with PointGrab's ability to pick up a multitude of different gestures using nothing more than a VGA-quality, 2D webcam. Our testing ground was a crowded coffee shop with uneven lighting — not a clean, bright white wall. The software certainly showed off its beta status with some inconsistencies — like the few times it lost track of our hands — but, It's fairly easy to use the software to move the cursor. Just move your hand and you'll see the cursor jump across the screen, and then clench your fist to click. The action is jarring at first, but over time it should become more normal. Clenching your first may seem pretty trivial, but the company told us that it's difficult to pick up both movement and shape.

There are many other advanced gestures, like making a thumbs up and tilting to the left or right to change the volume, pinch-to-zoom with your hands instead of your fingers, and, just for Windows 8, you can wave at the computer to close a Metro app and return to the start screen. Obviously these gestures have little use if you're close enough to just use the keyboard and touchpad, but we're told that the Windows 7 version could pick up gestures up to 10 feet away and that's been increased further for Windows 8. We also saw a test version of the software for Android running on a Motorola Xyboard, and we suppose if you're looking to make Angry Birds that much more challenging, using gesture controls is one way of doing it.