Universal Banks on Interactive Television

New York-Universal Electronics Inc. hopes to expand its role as a licenser and supplier of remote-control technology to the cable industry to include wireless keyboards and two-way touch-screen remotes that can control everything from interactive televisions to kitchen appliances.

Universal chairman and cable-industry veteran Camille Jayne met with reporters here last week to highlight the company's new technology, as well as recent deals with On Command Corp. and Invensys plc.

Jayne suggested that Universal is in a good position to capitalize on the growing demand for interactive controls because Universal has more patents (either issued or pending) in the area of wireless interfaces than any other company in the industry.

If future "Palm Pilots" are upgraded to include television remote-control functions, for example, Universal would get a licensing fee for each unit with such a function, Jayne said.

Universal is developing its own two-way remote control with a liquid-crystal-display video screen that would allow interactive-television viewers to take on-screen picture-in-picture functions, including e-mail or Web sites, off the television and onto the handheld remote.

That way, families can still watch a full screen of video television while one family member is downloading interactive services from the TV at the same time, for example.

Jayne envisions that the touch-screen remote controls would be an incremental purchase for cable or direct-broadcast satellite customers, and not necessarily included with every digital-television subscription.

The wholesale price for a first-generation, one-way LCD touch-screen remote is $100, but the price is expected to come down once the units are deployed in greater volumes.

Early this month, Universal announced that it signed a memo of understanding with Invensys to use Universal's touch-screen remote to interface with a wide range of home-networking devices, including major appliances.

Also this month, Universal announced an exclusive, four-year agreement to supply wireless keyboards for On Command's hotel-based Internet-over-television service.