Consumer electronics upstart Caavo is back with a new gadget that’s supposed to simplify streaming across multiple devices. After first announcing a $399 limited-edition device in early 2017, Caavo introduced a new gadget aimed at the mass market Monday. The new $99.95 Caavo Control Center promises to unify streaming across up to 4 TV-connected devices.
The device makes it possible to control, for instance, an Apple TV, a Roku and a Fire TV, all with a single remote control. What’s more, Caavo Control Center searches for content across multiple apps, and then fires up the right up on the device of your choice — all without the need to manually switch inputs, or search on multiple streaming apps, juggling with multiple remotes.
Caavo Control Center does this by combining multiple technologies in one single device. It is equipped with an IR blaster that allows it to control TVs, sound bars and AV receivers, similar to the way a universal remote control would.
Caavo also makes use of data interfaces from streaming apps and devices to directly control Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other streaming services. It aggregates data from these streaming providers to offer universal search, and is adding new discovery and recommendation services to its devices.
Much of this technology was already available in the original Caavo device, which the company first announced in February of 2017, and which eventually shipped earlier this year.
However, equipped with 8 HDMI inputs to connect game consoles, streaming boxes and other equipment, the first-generation Caavo hardware was made for home theater enthusiasts with lots of disposable income. The company even limited the number of devices made to 5000, and early on signalled that it had more in store.
The new Caavo Control Center cuts down the number of HDMI input ports to 4, but otherwise offers very much the same technology. “We haven’t cut down any features on the box,” said Caavo co-founder Ashish Aggarwal during a recent interview with Variety.
Aggarwal credited the fact that the company could bring down the price to $99.95 to “economies of scale.” The company is also requiring consumers to subscribe to a $1.99 per month service plan to use Control Center.
One of the lessons the company learned from its early users was that juggling multiple devices wasn’t the only problem people were struggling with. That’s why Caavo is now looking to answer another question as well, according to Einaudi: “What do you do when you don’t know what to watch?”
With Control, Caavo is introducing a curated selection of viewing recommendations across multiple services. The company also lets user compile and share their own video playlists, and keeps track of anything you watched so you can easily find it again.
“We love entertainment,” said Einaudi. “We want easier, more democratized access.”
During a brief test of Caavo Control Center over the last couple of days, it generally worked as advertised, and was able to switch back and forth between a Chromecast, an Apple TV, a Fire TV and a game console. It could fire up apps on the Apple TV and Fire TV, and find content across multiple apps and devices. And voice search and commands, which are currently based on Caavo’s own voice software, worked reasonably well.
However, the device also had some shortcomings. At this point, Caavo has to rely on its image recognition smarts to control anything on Apple TV, and that still takes a lot of time. YouTube use in particular was painfully slow.
It would take the Cavo Control Center anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds to launch playback of a YouTube video on Apple TV if the device had previously accessed content on a different streaming box — a time of painful waiting during which the device would display inspirational quotes, kind of like a smart TV version of the much-hated Forbes.com splash page. YouTube performance on Roku is much faster, according to company representatives.
Caavo currently also doesn’t integrate with any of the native voice assistants on streaming devices. Accessing Siri on Apple TV, Alexa on Fire TV or Roku’s voice search on Roku devices still requires you to pick up the remote of the respective device. The company said that it is working on integrating with third-party voice implementations.
App support is limited to about 20 apps. This includes the most popular video apps, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Video and HBO Now, but not a single music app. You won’t be able to find content from Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music with a Caavo search.
You can still use Caavo’s remote to manually launch and control any app on a streaming device, but you’re not able to use voice commands to launch unsupported apps. For instance, “open ABC News on Apple TV” didn’t open the installed ABC News app, but instead suggested a 3-year-old ABC News video on YouTube. Caavo representatives said that the company is looking to add support for music apps, and that it will allow its users to launch any installed app with voice commands soon.
But the biggest disappointment were Caavo’s new content discovery features. Not only could its lists and suggestions use a bit of a user interface refresh, the company’s official content recommendations also frequently seemed to be out of date or inaccurate. A list of “America’s 10 Greatest Films” suggested that the Disney classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” would be available to watch for free on Amazon Prime video, but it wasn’t.
The same was true for multiple other titles. “Content windows and partner APIs are always evolving,” the company said in response to a question about this issue. “Maintenance of lists is cloud based and we are updating these all the time.”
In the end, Caavo is attempting to solve a real problem for consumers. Big consumer electronics companies are looking to tie users to their services and device ecosystems, and the competition between these companies frequently make it harder for consumers to use their devices. The ongoing spat between Google and Amazon that resulted in YouTube briefly disappearing from Fire TV is just one example.
But ultimately, these device makers still have a home advantage over a third party like Caavo. And with companies like Amazon, Google and Roku increasingly emphasizing content over apps, discovery is also becoming less of an issue.
That’s not to say that universal remote controls don’t have some utility, especially for heavy users. And with some necessary updates, Caavo may just become the best such device control solution out there. But many casual consumers may be better off just buying a streaming device or smart TV that covers 90% of their needs, and then occasionally relying on casting or Airplay to fill in the blanks.