For all the talk of cutting the cord, the current crop of streaming options leave a lot to be desired. From trying to keep straight which services have which shows and movies, to the different devices required to keep it all running (Apple TV won’t run Amazon Prime, but you better keep it hooked up anyway if you want access to iTunes), the current system is far from perfect. But, what if there was a way to cut through all the different services, streaming boxes and user interfaces to have a streaming box that just works? Wired described it as a Rosetta Stone for television, and in a lot of ways that feels accurate.
That’s the promise of Caavo — a new set top box that aims to work with everything and take the guesswork out of remembering which streaming service has the complete catalog of Community (it’s Hulu, for what it’s worth). All that potential simplicity comes at a premium, however. Caavo is set to debut later this year in an extremely limited run, only 5,000 units, with a $400 price tag. Which is more than most folks pay for all the streaming boxes they hook up to their TV in the first place. But even still, Caavo could be worth it.
The pitch is this: Caavo uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to run pretty much everything you plug into it. It doesn’t even label its eight HDMI ports, because the system is supposed to be smart enough to figure out what you’ve plugged in. From there, everything runs through the Caavo user interface, while the software runs all your other services in the back end. You never have to see those interfaces, or switch services. Tell it you want to watch Daredevil, and it will go to your preferred Netflix device and just start it up. Want to continue watching a show recorded on your satellite or cable DVR? Just say the word, and Caavo will switch devices and services for you — all you see is the loading screen until your show arrives.
Caavo is cutting deals with as many service providers as possible to keep things seamless, but the real trick is that they don’t even need them. The AI that keeps the system humming basically does all the clicking and navigating for you in the back end, literally recognizing what’s on the screen and taking care of business. As far as a forward-facing system for a user, it’s about as elegant as you can ask for. Caavo itself also looks great, with an sleek bamboo cover and metal trim. Which is a smart move, considering it aims to be the only box on display.
Caavo comes from late Slingbox founder Blake Krikorian, and his collaborators, Caavo CEO Andrew Einaudi and co-founder Ashish Aggarwal, are working to finish the box and bring it to market. Einaudi and Aggarwal debuted Caavo at the recent Code Media conference, and laid out their vision for why it could be a game changer for the home media center. As far as the medium has come, the streaming market is as fragmented as it’s ever been. Content deals get more convoluted and complicated by the year, and as streaming services ramp up their original content, it’s become nearly impossible to keep up with everything with just one service or device.
But, the big question is whether people will be willing to pay $400 for what is essentially a really smart box that only exists to manage other boxes. On the surface, it could be hard to describe to the average person exactly what
Caavo does, and why
it’s revolutionary in the first place. That $400 price tag isn’t going to help matters. For many, Caavo will seem to fall into the same category as smart remotes like the Harmony Hub system, which essentially use programmable macros to make it faster and easier to manage various devices — and a Harmony Hub costs around $100. Yes, it takes more effort, but it’s also a whole lot cheaper.
Caavo looks to be the most elegant solution for an extremely inelegant problem, namely the fact that all of these services continue to refuse to play nice. That this device is even necessary in 2017 is telling about the state of the streaming market and where it’s heading. But, since it doesn’t seem likely Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu will be playing nice anytime soon, creating a layer of AI in-between to make it work is really the only workable solution. At least for now.
If the 1.0 version of Caavo pays off on its promise, it’s certain to find an audience even at the $400 price point. For people who have enough devices to actually fill up those eight HDMI ports, off-loading that management could absolutely be worth it. But, if Caavo ever wants to make its bamboo super-box a mainstay in a critical mass of living rooms, it stands to reason the company will need to shave the price down in future iterations.
Regardless, we’ll be watching. No pun intended.