Indian innovation is helping to add an Internet edge to legacy TV sets
By Anand Parthasarathy
There was a time when it was a put-down to say someone was 'acting smart'. Today, it is high praise. More so if it is a thing -- like a phone -- rather than a person. In 2014, TV too has gotten smart. It comes with a built-in WiFi antenna so that you can use the same screen to view cable content or surf the Internet.
This has long been on my wish-list: I see an old movie playing on some channel and feel the urge to check out the details of the story or remind myself who that actor is, whose name escapes. I see an ad for a holiday package and like to check if the fares are cheaper any where else. I also long to play some of the free online TV programming on the larger screen of my TV
Smart TVs allow you to switch from TV to Internet with a flick of the remote; but the asking price of a new Smart TV is too much for me. Now it seems, we can have the best of both worlds. Stick with our existing non-smart TVs and 'smarten' them in their old age, with an add on device or app that costs very little.
Abroad, you have plug-in devices like Miracast, Chromecast and most recently Amazon's Fire TV. Now, clever Indian developers have come up with desi options which do much the same thing: Net-connect your TV and let you stream Internet to your TV screen.
Mango Man, a Bangalore based start-up, has developed a HD Media Streaming Dongle called Teewe, that connects to your television via an HDMI Port and lets you search for and play a wide variety of Internet content. It comes with a smartphone app (Available on Google Play and Apple App Store) which lets the phone double up as a remote control. You can also watch downloaded content from your laptop and other storage devices on the TV. Teewe available at Snapdeal for Rs 1999.
D-Link has a product in this space: DSM-260 Mirror Streamer which costs Rs 3990. Just plug one into your TV, and you can stream your smartphone’s media directly to your TV for instant playback.
Some users like to store their movie collection on a single media centre. One of the Indian pioneers in this category is Amkette's EvoTV. In its latest avatar, it offers 4 GB of internal storage -- not much to store a lot of video but you can always plug in a USB stick with more content. It is an Android device which means you can surf the Net and reach YouTube or Google Play. For Rs 5500, you also get a remote.
For those who not into streaming content but rather like to make better use of the cable or DTH provider's offerings, Peel will seem like a Godsend. An app created at a US company founded by two Tamil Nadu-origin Indians -- Thiru Arunachalam and Bala Krishnan -- it lets you use your smart phone as a universal TV remote and what's more, digs into the network of the cable provider to create a personal programme guide. Peel has had viral success, notching up 100 million users of its free Android and iOS app.
I tried it out on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and accessed a wealth of content about TV programmes not available through my set top box. The only catch is Peel uses the same Infra Red technology that TV remotes exploit -- so only phones with IR will offer full functionality. I spoke to Thiru and he is excited to share that very soon Peel will also allow us to use the same phone to control many other household gadgets, not just TV.
As they say, 'That'll be the day!".