Here’s the TV Set-Top Box Apple Could Have Built: Caavo

3 minute read
| Editorial

As a follower of Apple, I’ve developed a notion about product design.

  • Products that solve problems, are beautifully designed and are a joy to use should be commended.
  • Products that are ugly and serve only to fulfill a developer’s agenda are to be condemned.

When the first generation Apple TV shipped, it was designed to serve the basic function of delivering your iTunes content. I had one. While it ran a little hot, it looked pretty good and had lots of ports. Over the years, it got smaller, uglier, simpler—not in a good way—and more of an isolated product designed to promote Apple’s services without the added compensation of solving our video technology problems.

Apple TV (4G)

The 4th generation Apple TV with Siri remote.

As a result, a sphere ot technologies surrounds the Apple TV, and it only plays a minor role. Most have an HD or UHD TV. Then there’s the optional AV Receiver if one is an audiophile. That allows one to manage a set of surround sound speakers. And then there are sources. Perhaps a Blu-ray player. A cable or satellite DVR. A Roku box. An Xbox. Or whatever.

There is some room to bring simplification and coherence to a home theater system. Google tried in 2010 with Google TV (which failed) followed by Android TV (which failed.) Thanks to the blocking efforts by the cable industry and its content partners, and not a lot of significant help from the FCC, modest home theater systems are largely a mess of roadblocks, compromises and reluctantly enforced simplicity by the consumer.

This is a hard problem, but then that’s what Apple might have a mind to tackle. Instead, a different company has. Caavo.

Caavo Emerges

I first learned about the Caavo system from Jeff Byrnes at AppAdvice. “Will Caavo Prove We Need a Set-top Box For Our Set-Top Boxes?” [Read it for additional background.] Caavo tries to solve the hard problem of bringing a unified interface to our multiple input devices. It’s a hard problem. The article above quotes:

This problem, so to speak, is something we’ve been thinking about since even prior to Slingbox. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s gotten much worse since then, since 2003. It’s gotten more complicated.

A product like Caavo emerges because someone has a passion and an unfettered vision about solving a problem and thinks deeply about it in a way that a large corporation cannot. You know, like when Steve Wozniak proposed his first personal computer project to Hewlett-Packard and was rejected.

Caavo

Nothing wrong with sheer beauty.

How Does Caavo Work?

The Holy Grail of modern TV viewing is to utterly ignore the input hardware source and the need to switch between them, at the TV or AV Receiver, to select the desired content. One would like to have a unified GUI that abstracts away the hardware.

Apple has tried to do this with apps. The problem is that it’s done solely within the context of the Apple TV itself. The conceit of the Apple TV is that no other device exists, and that’s simplification through arrogance rather than simplification via hardware and software brilliance.

Caavo GUI

One remote, one GUI for all devices and content.

From the Caavo press release:

Caavo delivers a unified TV experience where devices and services come together to offer ultimate control. Rather than attempting to consolidate into one box, Caavo connects all of the pieces: pay TV, streaming, and gaming, then unites the experience.

The power of Caavo lies in its ability to combine fragmented entertainment devices and the vast, yet ever changing content across all of them into something magical.

With eight HDMI inputs, you can plug in your Apple TV, Roku, FireTV, DVR, and lots of other devices. With a unified visual interface, you can then select content from the Caavo GUI rather than fiddle with selecting individual boxes one at a time.

Caavo's 8 HDMI inputs

8 HDMI inputs. (All images via Caavo.)

The Prospects

Will it fly? It remains to be seen. One hurdle might be the price. Preorders start in June and there will be just 5,000 units made in the initial production run, priced at US$399. On the other hand, many customers, especially those who appreciate both Apple products and home theater may well be pleased to pay that kind of money for an amazing solution.

A very positive aspect of the Caavo is that it is customer-centric and vendor neutral. It doesn’t try to force any particular content on the customer. It tries to solve a fundamental problem. In addition to that kind of flexibility, it’s also interoperable. I asked Caavo about the use with an AV Receiver.

Caavo’s HDMI output can be connected either directly to a TV or through an [AV Receiver]. Caavo supports Dolby and DTS pass thru from source to the AVR…

Devices similar to Caavo have been tried before and failed. Success will require brilliant engineering, deep understanding of why previous solutions failed, lots of positive press, considerable consumer enthusiasm and some luck.

Finally, it’ll ship in the fall as we approach the holidays, those days when there are terrific sales on big screen TVs. The timing looks good. The concept looks good. I’m pleased to see this product being developed.

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