ZeeVee Admits Missteps, Goes Pro and Apes Boxee

It’s always refreshing when a CEO owns up to mistakes their company makes. That was the case when I spoke with Vic Odryna, CEO of ZeeVee, who admitted that his company misjudged the market for its Zv100 set-top box. Rather than throwing good money after bad, Odryna put the Zv on the back burner to focus on products for the commercial market and today gave a facelift to its GUI browser that even Odryna says is an awful lot like Boxee.
The Zv100 set-top box promised to deliver the web video experience to your TV. It was less a set-top box and more a way to turn your big screen TV into a monitor that browsed the web using your PC. Odryna said that at $499 the Zv100 was just too expensive for people, especially in a down economy. On top of that, it was just too complicated for users to set up (an issue we found so frustrating that we just gave up on the darn thing). Odryna said that they only sold a few thousand Zv100 units, and decided to shelve work on the product just two months after it launched in July of last year.
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Consumer Set-Top Boxes Are Just a Temporary Fix

Getting content from the web to your TV is driving the release of several new set-top boxes such as the Roku, Apple TV (s aapl) and ZeeVee. And yet one of the top chipmakers in the set-top box market doesn’t see those types of appliances winning out over the set-top boxes you get from video service providers (cable, telco, satellite, etc.) anytime soon.

There are currently too many different set-top box options out there sold directly to consumers through the retail channel, plus the service providers are not going to stand by and let their portal into a consumer’s home slip through their grasp, argues Christos Lagomichos, EVP and GM of NXP’s Home Business divsion. NXP makes semiconductors for a variety of devices, including TVs and set-top boxes.

He expects the coming year to be tough for the retail box makers, and expects any success to be temporary or confined to a few tech-savvy early adopters. There are other limits as well. “The way I see the opportunity here today is you have a lot of free content on the Internet, and a box like that could be a great web box, but delivering HD content to the TV over a PC will be a nightmare — there’s no good transport mechanism,” Lagomichos says.

He’s talking about the limits of getting HD content to a PC using current broadband. In order to stream HD, two things are needed: speeds of at least 6-8 Mbps and a bandwidth provider that won’t cap your service. Service providers can guarantee quality of service through the box over their connections and they won’t count their own services against the cap. This worldview is kind of surprising coming from a firm that benefits from having as many potential customers in the market as possible, but nonetheless does seem practical, especially given how poorly similar consumer web boxes have fared.

AMD Bridges the Gap Between the PC and TV

As we consume more media online, and the web becomes more central to our lives, it’s only natural to want to bring that content into our living rooms. But while I and a few others will watch movies and shows on a laptop, most people want to watch their media on their TV. And if they can surf the web at the same time, more power to them. For some people, this trifecta of the couch, web surfing and movie-watching on a big screen is their version of heaven. If they have an AMD-powered computer running Windows, then they’re in luck.
I met on Friday with Brent Barry, a PC gaming strategist over at AMD, to get a demo of the AMD Live Explorer software running on a Windows PC and a Sony television. The demo was hardwired, but a consumer could also use a Wii or an Xbox console (both contain AMD chips from the ATI graphics division) to wirelessly send the information from the PC to the console hooked into the television. Since this only works on AMD-powered PCs, most of the market (notably Mac users) are out of luck, but anyone else can download the software for free. It seems similar to the functionality of the ZvBox, but doesn’t require the extra hardware. For a quick tour of the software and why visual computing is becoming so important, check out the video.

ZeeVee Launches ZViewer, An Internet Video Browser

ZeeVee’s ZViewer, an online video aggregator available today in beta, gives you access to a variety of sites and services that offer TV shows and videos, such as Hulu.com, Amazon’s Video on Demand, ABC.com and iTunes.

Throwing in the Towel on ZvBox

Written by Liane Cassavoy

I completely understand the desire to link your computer to your HDTV. But my enthusiasm for the concept has waned a bit more with each media extender — devices that allow you to view content from your PC on your TV — that I’ve tried. And after my experiences with the ZvBox, I’m about ready to give up.

The ZvBox, made by ZeeVee Inc., is a device that uses the existing cable wiring in your house to take the content that’s on your PC and make it accessible from any HDTV in the house. It sounds simple, but in reality it’s anything but. To be fair, the company warns you that the product can be tricky to install, but tricky doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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NTV Demos the Zv

The ZvBox is one of the many contenders looking to bring Internet content to your TV set. It basically turns your oldteevee into a remote desktop that lets you watch anything from PC on your TV (see our previous coverage).

But instead of just reading about it, let Brian Mahony, Zv’s vice president of marketing, give you a quick demo of the Zv in action:

Because the demo PC at the show didn’t have Netflix or the plug-in to watch a streaming HD version of something like Lost installed, it’s tough to get a complete first impression. Content from Hulu looked blocky, and the remote with the trackpad built in seemed to be a little flaky, but from the looks of it, the service does what it says it will.

Having a box that can get anything off your PC and isn’t tied to specific content relationships definitely has its appeal, unlike iTunes, for instance, which doesn’t have The Office after NBC pulled it from the service. But Zv’s $499 price point still seems steep and probably won’t get me to cut my cable quite yet.

The Internet Set-Top Box Scorecard

Set-top boxes have been poppin’ up all over the place this past year. You can’t swing a dead LOLcat without hitting some newfangled device being built or upgraded to bridge oldteevee with the newteevee. To help you keep up with the growing number of options, we put together this Set-Top Scorecard. It rounds up the major STBs we’ve covered over the past few months, and gives you a quick overview on each product.

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ZeeVee’s Box Brings the PC to TeeVee

Connecting your computer to your nice HD TV screen can get kludgy fast. A company called ZeeVee has an interesting solution that uses the existing cable wiring in your home to display what’s on your PC on an empty channel on your TV dial. Instead of requiring an additional receiver, it uses the HD tuner in your TV. No new-fangled wireless HD or old-fangled screen-scraping required.

You need a ZvBox and remote receiver, which you’ll be able to buy for $499. Connect them both to your (Windows-only for now) computer, and you can then control your PC wirelessly and play your iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Joost, BitTorrent content — whatever you can access from your PC — on any TV in your home. Except instead of being hunched over, you can sit back and relax and watch it basically projected onto your high-definition screens.

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