When I reviewed the unique Caavo universal remote system earlier this year, I concluded that it was probably the most promising approach to home theater control I’d ever seen, but that it was too expensive at $399 — especially since it was complicated to set up and lacked high-end features like HDR and Dolby Atmos support.
Eight months later, the company is back with the Caavo Control Center, which is dramatically cheaper at $99, supports Atmos and HDR10 (with a Dolby Vision software update coming this month), and offers a simpler setup experience.
That’s all the boxes ticked. The catch? There’s now a $1.99/month or $20/year service fee. And you’re down to four HDMI inputs, half of what the older Caavo had.
“We wanted to send a person to Mars, but we had to land on the Moon first,” says Caavo CTO Ashish Aggarwal, describing the older Caavo. “We decided to take an axe to it and take out all the distractions.”
Those distractions include things like customizable wooden covers (the Control Center is a dense black box), the included IR-over-HDMI adapter for the IR blasters (it’s just a regular old wire now), and the invisible web browser that automatically logged on to your streaming services and kept your watch list in sync (it’s gone now, replaced by a new discovery feature). If the old Caavo was every single idea about unifying the TV experience, the new Control Center is just one idea: making a great remote control.
Caavo’s big innovation is using machine vision to analyze what your devices are doing as you use your TV, which means the system knows what you’re doing, and — crucially — if the commands it’s sending to your devices are working as intended. It mixes and matches traditional IR control with HDMI CEC and smart device network API controls, so it might turn on your TV using CEC, adjust your receiver volume over IR, and open a Netflix show on your Roku by sending a deep link over the network. And it can keep track of everything you’ve been watching across every device and search across catalogs from a single UI. It’s basically a little butler for your TV.
Caavo’s new discovery feature is built around social sharing and playlists: you can make a playlist of shows you’ve loved and instantly share it publicly. The company is also signing up influencers to create their own lists, and is working on taking existing best-of-TV lists from the web and making them interactive. “We’re all about the community, and making discovery really driven by users,” says CEO Andrew Einaudi. “Then you just say, ‘show me what to watch.’”
There are other upgrades: a new custom chipset means it can do all that machine vision but lower video latency to 30ms, which is fast enough for casual gaming. “We essentially made our vendor take an existing chipset and change it to suit our products,” says Aggarwal. “We don’t have to have extra microcontrollers and FPGAs on the board, it’s all in the chipset.”
And the earlier Caavo was stuck if you used the built-in apps on a smart TV, since it couldn’t see the screen. No more: the company has worked with TV manufacturers to build out API support. A future software update will allow the Control Center to support smart TVs from LG, Sony, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. The most notable name not on the list is Samsung, but Caavo says it’s working on it.
“We added things like knowing the state of the TV — some of these systems turn off Wi-Fi when the TV is off,” says Aggarwal. “We are so involved in things that [TV manufacturers] never think about that they’re grateful for the help — no one ever gives them feedback at this level.”
That, more than anything, explains the state of TVs and remote controls in 2018. We’ve got a Caavo Control Center in-house and we’ll be reviewing it soon — stay tuned.