Smart TVs are becoming commonplace, but a new set-top device promises to take TVs "beyond smart." In addition to providing the usual applications and content streamed from the internet, TVPro says it will turn TV into an intelligent interactive display with PC functionality. It will even get you fit.
Unlike other over-the-top devices, TVPro was not conceived and developed by a TV or tech company. Its creators were working on a fitness app called Reshape that aims to connect users with fitness professionals. The goal was to create a platform over which live fitness sessions could be provided using a two-way video link.
"We needed more screen real estate for a professional to host and effectively manage a group of up to 12 people at a time, so we began hooking up laptops to the TV and using Logitech webcams to test this," TVPro co-founder Sam Haginas tells Gizmag. "One day we just looked at one another and said, 'This would be a lot easier if all TVs just had a camera,' so we began seeking a solution."
Of course, some TVs do now come with a camera built-in and, for those that don't, peripheral devices such as the Kinect would seem like the logical solution. Haginas explains that this turned out not to be the case. "A small percentage of new TVs have webcams and some Smart TVs are Skype-ready with the addition of an expensive webcam, but these options all have closed platforms where Reshape was not possible."
The team members began testing small peripheral webcam devices that could be connected to a TV via HDMI. Although they found that none of the existing devices on the market were powerful enough, they were encouraged that an Android-based media player could be the solution. After working with manufacturers to try and integrate Reshape with new top-mounted webcam devices, it was decided that more processing power and HD quality video was required. It was this that gave rise to the independent device that would become TVPro.
TVPro is powered by a quad-core processor. It has a 1080p webcam and delivers HD streaming video to the user's TV. It features dual noise-cancelling microphones and integrated speakers for independent audio, so that it can be placed and used away from the TV if required. The device comes loaded with Android 4.2.2, the Google Play store and Google Voice Search. It supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Miracast, has a 5 MP autofocus camera, a micro SD slot and, perhaps most niftily of all, a remote control with a QWERTY keyboard on the back.
Haginas says that the performance of the TVPro's processor has been particularly pleasing and that the team is excited about the potential of the two-way HD video streaming for connecting people through their TVs. Its ease-of-use due to the widely-familiar Android operating system is the thing that has stood out the most from testing though, he says.
"People are now very comfortable with the interface of their smartphones and tablets and this is just an extension of that experience on your TV," he says. "We have found it to be extremely intuitive for both Android and iOS users and, when they turn the camera on, it's really a wow factor for the simplicity of being able to Skype with family or hangout with friends in the comfort of your living room."
TVPro will, of course, come loaded with the Reshape platform, the health and wellness focus of which the team hasn't lost sight. "For us this goes way beyond the entertainment features of the device and is more about how we can really make a positive impact through health and wellness or other applications with this technology," says Haginas.
The device is certainly packed with features and has an impressive specs list. The use of the Android platform coupled with the provision of a keyboard with the remote control are the two simple ideas that could be the making of the platform, though. Those two features help to bring the familiar functionality of PCs and mobile devices into the living room.
Individuals can get their hands on a TVPro device by making an early-bird pledge of US$139 on Kickstarter, assuming the total target of $150,000 is met. The first devices are expected to be shipped by August. In the event that the Kickstarter target is not met, Haginas says the funds will be found elsewhere to bring the product to market.
You can watch the Kickstarter pitch video below.