Hillcrest Goes Big-Screen Surfing

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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.

Hillcrest's Kylo browser

"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 Web-enabled TVs, set-tops and Blu-ray 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 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 set-tops 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.

Hillcrest Loop pointer

"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 Web-to-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 still 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 in the first place.

"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."

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