Video streaming boxes and game consoles tend to create a new problem for every one they solve: for every improved TV interface, there’s another input to switch to, or another remote control to use. And you still can’t get certain content stores, like Amazon’s Video app and Apple’s iTunes, on the same interface.
That’s what Caavo is hoping to solve with its new, long-in-the-works media box, a $399, multi-port box that puts all of your streaming video apps into one interface, and even works with third-party voice control, like Amazon’s Alexa.
Company co-founders Andrew Einaudi and Ashish Aggarwal, who serve as CEO and CTO, respectively, demoed the Caavo box onstage at Recode’s Code Media event earlier today in Dana Point, California. Another Caavo founder, Blake Krikorian, was the co-founder of Sling Media, maker of the Sling Box; Krikorian passed away suddenly last year.
The Caavo box — named as such because “un cavo” translates to “one cable” in Italian — is a 16-inch, four-pound flat box with eight HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, two USB ports, a power port, and a 3.5mm jack for an IR extension cable. It’s solid, with three different aesthetic options for the top of the box (bamboo, mahogany, and tiger wood) and a steel base to keep it in place.
The idea is that you’re supposed to run all of your external TV boxes — Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, etc — as well as a cable box, through the Caavo box, and it will present every video option available to you in the same, bare-bones interface. It supports 4K video, and also comes with a capacitive touch, voice-control remote.
In an earlier demo of Caavo in San Francisco, I was able to see both iTunes and Amazon’s Video on the same, uncluttered screen; pull up a series of programs, ranging from Jessica Jones on Netflix, to Hulu, to a Disney movie, using Caavo’s own voice controlled remote; and switch from a cable feed to a video streaming apps to a PlayStation 4 without actually having to change inputs. The only thing I wasn’t able to try was using Amazon’s Alexa, located in an Echo speaker in the corner of the room, to pull up videos, because the Echo speaker wasn’t set up; the company insists this will work, regardless of whether the video is coming from Amazon’s own video app or not.
The box won’t ship until the fall, and is still a work in progress. It doesn’t support all DVR features right now. Dish and DirectTV DVR work, but other time-shifting features “require direct partnerships,” the company said. The company is also still figuring out dynamic pricing: in other words, showing users the cheapest option for watching movies or TV shows they’re looking for.
Four hundred dollars is also a high price for a streaming TV device, which can range anywhere from $30 for a Chromecast stick to $200 for a new Apple TV. But Caavo’s assumption is that if you already have enough boxes and game consoles to warrant this product, then you’re not afraid to spend on a better TV experience. Einaudi called the price “premium but approachable” in an interview before the Code Media event.
Caavo also only plans to ship around 5,000 units in its first year of availability, citing a desire to make sure the product is “absolutely nailed” first.
Caavo was first founded by 2014 by Blake Krikorian, who co-founded and ran Sling Media; Einaudi, who worked on Jawbone’s earliest wireless headsets and later worked at Sling and Microsoft’s Xbox division; Aggarwal, who has a PhD in electrical engineering and worked on the PortalPlayer chip that was used in the first-generation iPod, among other roles; and Vinod Gopinath, an expert in embedded systems and wireless technology who has worked at Snap Networks and was founding CEO of Althea Systems.
Krikorian died of a heart attack last year, at the age of 48, leaving behind his family; investments in a series of technology startups, including projects like Caavo; and a legacy as a well-respected and beloved Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
San Francisco-based Caavo has raised $15 million to date from DCM Investment Group’s Jason Krikorian (Blake’s brother, who co-founded Sling with him), David Sze of Greylock Partners, Sky’s investment and partnership arm, Silicon Valley Bank, and Hearst Ventures. It currently has around 45 employees, many of whom are based in India.
“This problem, so to speak, is something we’ve been thinking about since even prior to Slingbox,” says lead investor Jason Krikorian. “But I think it’s fair to say that it’s gotten much worse since then, since 2003. It’s gotten more complicated. Paid TV is still a mass phenomenon, but increasingly people are getting other devices that are getting a good share of their viewing time.”
So why hasn’t something like Caavo been done before? CEO Einaudi says it’s because most of the big tech companies are still prioritizing their own content stores or content delivery mechanisms. “It’s hard to be very egalitarian, to be the Switzerland of TV, when you have a horse in the race,” he said. “We’re coming in to this just wanting to make it as easy as possible for consumers.”