News

Big-Screen Surfing

3/22/2010 12:41 PM Eastern

After more than a decade
of trying, nobody’s figured
out a great way of accessing the
Web’s billions of pages and videos
on a TV.

Web content is intended for a
“three-foot” experience (i.e., sitting
at a computer) while TV is
the proverbial “10-foot” experience
— basically, the text on the
screen is too small to read from
your sofa. In addition, most people
don’t want a keyboard and
mouse on their coffee table, so
there’s no great way to navigate
the Web on TV.

Hillcrest Labs founder and
CEO Dan Simpkins claims his
company has finally cracked the
Web-on-TV code. This week, Hillcrest
plans to introduce a new
Web browser for the TV called
Kylo that, coupled with its Loop
motion-sensitive pointing device,
promises to make accessing
Internet content on a big screen
easy and fun.

“We’re confident that Kylo is
the best way to browse the Internet
on TV,” Simpkins said. He
added that the browser’s sweet
spot is a TV with a screen size of
between 40 and 50 inches.

The cable industry is watching
the Web-on-TV space closely.
Cablevision Systems, for one, this
summer plans to kick off a test of
a PC-to-TV Relay service, which
would broadcast audio and video
from a personal computer to
a dedicated private channel, but
the operator has been mum on
the technical details.

Meanwhile, Google reportedly
is working with Sony, Intel
and Logitech to develop Webenabled
TVs, set-tops and Bluray
Disc players that would use
the search giant’s Android operating
system, originally developed
for mobile phones. Details
are sketchy — the companies
aren’t talking about the project—
but Logitech’s contribution would
include a TV remote that includes
a tiny keyboard, The New York
Times reported last week. (Logitech
also sells a cordless mouse
device that incorporates Hillcrest’s
Freespace motion-detection
technology.)

Hillcrest will offer the Kylo
software for PCs and Macs as a
free download. Kylo is based on
the Mozilla open-source browser,
so it can run Adobe Flash and Microsoft
Silverlight and access video
on sites such as Hulu.

The company isn’t looking to aggregate
video content and apps, a
la startup Boxee, nor is it trying
to sell Internet-connected settops
like Roku. Rather, Hillcrest is
hoping to seed the market with the
Kylo free browser to drive sales of
the $99 Loop pointer, which allows
users to control an on-screen cursor
by waving it through the air.

“Right now, this is about getting
Loop into as many hands as
possible,” Strategy Analytics principal
analyst David Mercer said.

Hillcrest is betting the approach
will give it an edge over other Webto-
TV applications that function as
“walled gardens” of aggregated video
content. Kylo, Simpkins notes, is
a regular Web browser that scales
up font sizes, lets viewers zoom
in on certain areas and pop up an
on-screen keyboard when needed.
“What consumers have said unequivocally
is that they want unfettered
access to the TV,” he said.

The fact that Kylo is an ordinary
browser could give Hillcrest cover
from media companies that have
objected to services that scrape
content and present it in a new
interface. Hulu, for example, has
claimed Boxee violates the site’s
terms of service.

Still, Kylo isn’t for everyone.
Consumers must first connect a
PC or Mac to their TV, which can
be confusing and frustrating, and
they need to be predisposed to
viewing Web on their TV.

“You have to bear in mind it’s
focused on a very specific audience
— people who connect a laptop
to the TV set,” said Mercer.

And, he added, while the Loop
is easy to use, “I’m not convinced
it will make on-screen keyboards
so much better than current solutions.”

September