Today, a startup called ZeeVee is launching the ZvBox, a three-part plan for getting all the good HD video content from your PC out to all the TVs in the house:
• The box itself converts the video from the PC's VGA port into a high-def channel and sends it out to your home's coax cable network.
• A PC app acts as a launcher for all the good PC-based internet video clients, like Hulu, Joost and even Microsoft's own Media Center.
• The remote controls not just your TV, but the app on the PC too, giving you decent control over the otherwise PC-locked experience.
No, you don't have deja vu: Two companies you never heard of launched similar-sounding interactive TV boxes within a few hours of each other. But this one is quite different: It doesn't mess with antennae or try to get in bed with cable or DSL providers. It's just a nice tidy box that sends all the world's content to all TVs in your house—without set-top boxes in each room. There are some catches, of course.
The first catch is that the box-and-remote combo costs US$500. Sure, you only need one kit for the whole house (unless you want additional remotes, but every TV would get the same experience anyhow, so there's no point). But US$500 is pretty steep.
Another catch is that the content itself is a little up in the air. Yes, there are plenty of services that let you buy or rent movies on a PC, and many more coming along that give you piecemeal content for free. But everyone does it differently, and you will have to become master of many interfaces with that one remote.
The launcher app, called Zviewer (what else?), is useful to aggregate all the different programs you'll want supplying you with video, and it also lists all of the BitTorrent and other video on your hard drive, not to mention photos and music. But there's no way to bring all web video into one seamless interface, and though ZeeVee will try to do just that, they admit that the beginnings will be a tad humbler.
I do like this concept. As soon as you connect your VGA out to the ZvBox and connect that to the coax network in your house, it scopes out the channels occupied by your cable box, and picks one that's not. Any TV with an ATSC tuner will see the ZeeVee stream as a high-def channel, and display it as such via the coax input most cable and satellite customers have generally forgotten about. You put the ATSC tuner to use, your coax cable gets new life, and you get an easy way to toggle from your other cable content to your PC's video bidness.
At this point, it's still a work in progress. Though the company promises a June ship date, the hardware shots are just renderings. The software, barely in beta, will only run on Windows XP and Vista, though ZeeVee assures us a Mac version will be out this year. I am a little leery of trying to use PC apps while sitting at my couch, so hopefully the software itself will handle most of my needs.
Promotional screenshots shown below depict some pretty nice media management, but the company admits that these are more aspirational, and will not represent the initial user experience:
If you think about it, the PC is kind of arbitrary here. I asked Brian Mahoney, ZeeVee director of marketing, if the company couldn't all the same turn this into a whole-house extender for my TiVo HD, or maybe a video iPod, and he said, "We can indeed take the video inputs from any device. That is a path we're looking at in the future."
My question for you, dear Giz readers, is this: Remote and PC software aside, how easy is it to build the box ZeeVee is talking about? And is it worth US$200 to US$250? Maybe it is. If you're really eager, it's going on pre-order at Amazon today, with plans to ship in June. If I were you, I'd wait until your friends at Gizmodo at least saw the thing in person before shelling out five bills. [ZeeVee]