It's about the size of a squashed hockey puck, takes up a very small corner of whatever your stack your entertainment gear on, and runs as quiet as a mouse. But the just-released Orb TV-which streams content from Hulu (that's right, it's not blocked), Netflix, ESPN3, YouTube and other online sources, as well as your own photos and video, to the TV --potentially could make a lot of noise in the digital video space, especially as pay-TV services cope with more viewers pondering cutting the cord.
The $99 device, available only from the company's website, connects to any TV using standard audio and video input jacks (HD is not available, it is, for the moment, sticking with SD video) and it wirelessly streams video from your computer to the TV, simply. Instead of shipping with a remote, Orb TV uses a free app downloaded to your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Android device.
"Our view is that people need to have a really simple to set up, simple to use, affordable device that allows them turn their TVs into a digital video receptor," Orb's CEO and founder Joe Costello told FierceOnlineVideo. And while Google TV, Boxee Box and other over-the-top solutions are blocked from Hulu content while they work to hammer out deals with the content site, Hulu content streams to Orb TV with no restrictions.
That, says Costello, is because the architecture of the device establishes the Mac or Windows computer as the receiver, and, once it's on the computer, it's redirected to the Orb TV device through Orb Caster software you run on your computer.
"It's rabbit ears for the Web," he said. "If Hulu wants to block it, they'd have to block it from the computer's browser as well." And, Hulu, he said, is a key part of the Orb strategy.
"We asked people 'What's important in terms of video content,' and most of them ranked Hulu really high," he said. "It's like the Kleenex of video on the Web, it's the best site, the best premium content online."
Costello formerly was president and CEO at Cadence Design Systems for more than a decade, helping it become a leading supplier of electronic EDA software and services and one of the 10 highest-grossing software vendors in the world. Despite his background, he had trouble attracting venture capital to Orb Networks, (the company also produces a $69 Orb Music Player that allows users to hook it up to any pair of speakers to play music from iTunes and Pandora over a wireless home network).
"They balked," he said. "VCs just didn't see it. So, he self-funded Orb, and production runs, for the moment, are about 5,000 pieces at a time. Costello said he believes that once Orb TV gets out to more users, the concept will take off.
"It's so simple, you just hook it up, and you're good to go," he said. "And that's how it should be, how it has to be. Web content should be easy to get onto the TV, viewers should be able to put the content where they want it. Right now, we're kind of in our awkward teenage years with video. That's changing."
Costello said the company will continue to develop the product, and hopes that, as 802.11n network penetration in the U.S. grows, the quality of the video it streams to televisions will, too. It also plans to continue to add content streams.
"We're going to add ivi.tv to our feed," he said, referring to another startup that streams live TV content over the web. "They're doing the right thing, making content available. The whole idea is to continue the push and add more content."
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