Hillcrest Labs Raises $5.5M to Remake Your TV Remote

Maryland-based connected device interface specialist Hillcrest Labs wants to bring point-and-click to your TV. Hillcrest raised a Series E round totaling $5.5 million of funding from existing investors NEA, AllianceBernstein, Columbia Capital, and Grotech Ventures this week, and Sales and Marketing SVP Chad Lucien told me in a phone conversation today that it wants to use the money to address the growing interest in interface solutions for connected devices. The company has raised approximately $62.7 million in funding since 2001.
Hillcrest Labs made some headlines last year when its Kylo web TV browser got blocked by Hulu, to which the company responded with a workaround, which subsequently also got shut down.
Sound familiar? That’s right; Boxee owes some of its success to a similar very public spat with Hulu in 2009. But Hillcrest isn’t trying to be the next Boxee. The company has been developing interface solutions for connected devices for a decade now, and it quickly discovered input devices as the missing link to bring rich browser-like experiences to the living room TV.
Hillcrest’s solution is a point-and-click approach, and its Freespace technology has been licensed by companies like Logitech (s LOGI), Sony (s SNE) and, most recently, LG, which utilizes Freespace for its Magic Motion remote control. The remote allows point-and-click navigation much like a Wii remote. Hillcrest also markets its own point-and-click device, dubbed the Loop, which retails for about $80.
So how does this all fit together with Kylo, and why does a company that’s been in the business for 10 years need more cash? Lucien told me today that Kylo and Loop are merely market-ready use cases for the technologies developed by Hillcrest, but the company’s real business is licensing its solutions to CE makers. Those manufacturers have been standing in line ever since the company announced its cooperation with LG. Everyone suddenly wants better input devices to make browsers and advanced widget platforms work on TV screens.
Most of the current interest comes from TV OEMs, as well as smaller manufacturers of Internet set-top boxes, Lucien said. The company has also licensed its technology to Universal Electronics, which manufactures remote controls for a number of pay TV operators. However, it may take a little longer before point-and-click finally reaches your cable TV remote, simply because big network operators work on their own schedule. “They have massive legacy networks to support,” said Lucien.
Of course, new input devices only make sense in combination with interfaces that make use of their capabilities, which is where Kylo and other TV applications developed by Hillcrest Labs come into the picture. Kylo is currently offered as a free download for end users, who can use the browser to access video content on their TV-connected Mac (s aapl) or PC. The company has begun to license Kylo to some of its clients, said Lucien, but he wasn’t able to provide any names just yet.
However, Lucien said we can expect a number of additional technology — as well as partnership — announcements in the coming months, and the sense I got from our conversation was that for his company, things are finally falling onto place, thanks to the massive shift toward richer content and interfaces on TVs. “We have seen the connected consumer electronics market really take shape in the last six to nine months,” said Lucien. For Hillcrest, this could be a success story 10 years in the making.