Photo: Tekla S. Perry
Many of us are watching TV on our computers. Some of us are browsing the Internet on our TV screens. Neither experience is ideal. TV on our computers is tiny; trying to navigate the Internet with a traditional web browser when the display is a couple of meters away is challenging. And true Internet TV, that is, a seamless convergence of traditional television and Internet content, well, it’s been right around the corner for at least 10 years (though devices—like Roku and Apple TV—are making it less frustrating than it used to be, it’s still got a ways to go).
That doesn’t mean folks have given up. And, indeed, the company that finally gets it right could have a huge market. Three companies that launched products at Demo Spring this week in Palm Springs are hoping to do just that.
First of the TV/Internet contenders on Demo stage was ViaClix, based in Los Gatos, Calif. At first glance, ViaClix looked awesome, with its seamless navigation between Internet and regular TV channels. However, it turns out that there’s a hitch; ViaClix technology will need to be integrated in cable and other set-top boxes; I won't be able to go out and get it myself. That leaves us broadcast-TV watchers out, and means that the company will have to sell TV providers on the technology. That may take a while. (watch their six-minute demo at the end of this post)
GlideTV, from Pleasanton, Calif., is nearer term—it’s a software application that’s designed for finding entertainment programming on the Internet and browsing it by content rather than site. The company plans to sell a $99 package that includes the software and a wireless touchpad optimized for TV browsing (photo, right, demo below).
Hillcrest Labs, from Rockville, Maryland, is also targeting folks that are willing to hook a computer up to their television. The company, however, sees these folks asnot just looking for entertainment, but rather aas doing all sorts of web browsing. So Hillcrest is introducing a web browser, the Kylo Browser, that can be easily controlled from a distance; it makes the fonts, buttons, and cursor larger, moves most of the clutter to the bottom of the screen where it won’t get in the way of the TV picture, and pops up an onscreen keyboard when needed. Hillcrest is giving its browser away for free, in hopes of driving sales of its $99 remote, which is motion rather than touch sensitive. (photo, left, and demo below). (The remote, by the way, was hugely fun to use. Which has its good points and its bad points—my kids change channels too much as it is.)
Panelists discussing these approaches weren’t blown away, though they agree that when you move from a hundred channels to a thousand up and down channel navigation, typical on today’s TV remotes, is no longer viable.
Michael Jones, Chief Technology Advocate for Google, doesn’t see real internet TV happening as long as you have to hook up a gadget to your TV; not until television manufacturers build the technology into standard TV sets will it happen. Robert Davis from venture firm Highland Capital Partners agrees that it’s a hard sell as an add on, pointing out that besides the extra box problem, people have to be really motivated to run an Ethernet cable to their television, and most aren’t.
Instead, Chi-Hua Chien from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers noted, convergence is more likely to consist of an iPad on the coffee table for Internet browsing during TV viewing.
Unless, the panelists said, you get that killer app. And we might just have had a glimpse of it on the Demo stage. It wasn’t something like an Internet TV navigator; instead, panelist Chien pointed to a startup out of Nyoombl Inc. from Palo Alto, Calif. with the Greypfruit, a device the size of a cell phone that hooks up to a TV for easy video conferencing—so simple, Nyoombl hopes, that when the kids turn on the TV they’ll be looking to visit with Grandma instead of watching cartoons. (We know the kids will be able to figure it out, the trick is making it simple enough for Grandma.) The company hasn’t released pricing information.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.