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iGugu: What Happens When Internet TV Technology Isn’t Ready for Prime Time

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At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas last week, several companies showed off their set-top box wares: Boxee, for instance, showcased its ability to play content on the iPad via the Boxee app.

iGugu, a Miramar, California-based company, showed off its InterneTV wireless product, which it claims costs less than any of the major competitors in the marketplace. Yet a simple set of fact checks on their website and marketing slick shows a number of inconsistencies.

The company's premise is one that may have merit: A hockey puck-sized wireless receiver dongle attaches to a computer via USB 2.0, allowing the laptop to be controlled by the company's wireless RF remote and accompanying Windows software.

The current implementation of the wireless remote, however, leaves much to be desired:The buttons aren't programmed to work consistently, so clicking on the "enter" button only works in some instances, and a user must look through tiny Chiclet-style keys to find the right ones for simple tasks (pressing "H" from within the tiny QWERTY keyboard, for instance, to go back to the home screen, or pressing "enter" sometimes but "esc" other times).

There's also a lack of consistent specifications, with one of the company's web pages claiming that the frequency used is 5.8 Ghz, then saying later on the same page that it is 2.4 Ghz. This is just one example, but an important one, as 802.11b also uses the 2.4 Ghz spectrum and the RF remote could generate potential interference.

The biggest disconnect, however, comes from the Internet TV Comparison Chart that the company provided at CES. The chart lists iGugu as the low price leader at $99, with the only competition being the Apple TV, also priced at $99. 

The Roku device is listed at $129, which is a price that was applicable in mid-2010 but only for the highest-priced device: Roku's lowest-end box sells for $59 and the highest-end one at $99.

Besides the price disconnect, which could be overlooked, iGugu also requires a PC or laptop to run, meaning that a user must choose to tie up a computer to view content on their big-screen television, rather than just use a set-top box like AppleTV, Roku, or Boxee. 

I asked a representative in the booth about this discrepancy, and the response was that the majority of people would have an extra machine sitting around to use.

The company also lists storage capacity as a competitive advantage, claiming that up to 6TB of information can be stored, versus the inability of any of the other products it lists as competition, including the Google TV Logitech Revue.

While the lack of storage in set-top boxes is certainly an issue that we've pointed out in previous articles, the iGugu marketing approach is disingenuous, as I'm not familiar with a laptop that can store 6 TB.

In fact, it's only the most recent, high-end laptops that even have a 1 TB drive on board, begging the price question again, since most of those machines run well over $600. If you're going to go to that level, buying a Mac Mini with an integrated Front Row software and a five-button remote seems much more appropriate for TV viewing than having to deal with a 50+ button remote.

Since that level of key density on the Sony Google TV remote has met with some resistance, it would seem like a good idea to provide the ability to use a full-size keyboard: not an ideal solution in itself, as we've seen with the Logitech Revue, but still a better option than having to deal with a tiny keyboard.

Given the special RF frequency that iGugu uses, however, there's no ability to use a stand-alone keyboard, as the company does not yet offer one. 

In the end, what iGugu InterneTV is doing is nothing more than a Media Center PC with a custom remote control. It's a valid approach, one that Microsoft, Apple, and HP have all attacked over the past few years, and there's room for market innovation in the human interface department.

iGugu, in its current form, however, is not an answer that will satisfy most customers, unless they have an extra computer lying around that they don't mind tying up for television viewing, and if they're fully aware that the comparisons the company is making don't ring true to the current landscape of internet TV enabled set-top boxes.

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