What if you could control your TV with a simple and intuitive touchscreen? This future may not be so far off.
Over the last few years, a lot of established industry players and small startups have launched products intended to revolutionize the TV. Ideally, each of these solutions would bring together games, cable television, streaming movies, apps, music, and the Internet under a single, unified interface. So far, none of them have done particularly well.
Enter ZRRO, a novel take on the idea of an Android console/set-top box — all thanks to a fancy controller that knows when your fingers hover over it.
What Is ZRRO?
Normally, when you think of Android consoles, what comes to mind is the Ouya, a $100 plastic box containing the guts of a mid-range smartphone.
The Ouya ran a special version of Android with a custom interface. Games, which had to be designed specifically for the Ouya, were controlled using a chunky gamepad. The Ouya was a huge flop due to the difficulty of attracting content to the platform, and issues with system performance and build quality.
ZRRO is doing something a little bit different. Their set-top-box runs stock, vanilla Android, and you download apps via the Play Store. You have access to all of the games and apps available on Android, as well as the browser and music player.
Obviously, they aren’t the first ones to have this idea. The issue is one of controls: how do you make these apps, which were designed for small touchscreen control, make sense on a television? ZRRO’s answer relies on their unique controller. Here’s their pitch:
Using a Touchless Touchscreen
The ZRRO remote control is a neat piece of technology using a new kind of touch interface. Modern touchscreens work by sensing the capacitance (ability to store electrical charge) of your fingers and measuring the change in capacitance across the surface of the screen to figure out where they are.
As it turns out, it’s possible through the use of clever sensors to measure that change even when the fingers aren’t touching the surface. ZRRO’s touchscreen can detect the position of your fingers even when they’re several centimeters above the screen. This information is displayed on the TV screen as a floating overlay, which allows you to know where your fingers are, and use normal touch gestures on the remote to control the TV.
I haven’t personally tried the ZRRO, so I don’t know how intuitive it really is, but it’s definitely a neat idea. If they can make their interface scheme work, ZRRO will have effectively solved the content problem that’s held back smart TV solutions from the market — their customers will be guaranteed to always have the latest games and apps, regardless of adoption.
Talking to the Person behind ZRRO
I talked to one of the folks behind the campaign, Nimrod Back, about their product. Here’s what they had to say:
There are a lot of products vying for the future of the TV right now. Smart TVs, gaming consoles, and streaming devices like the Chromecast all want to stake a claim. What makes the ZRRO different?
“None of the devices trying to claim ownership of our TVs today are able to provide us with a complete solution. Connect ZRRO to your TV, and you get a gaming console with over 200,000 games (most of them for free!), a streamer, a browser that you can actually use (unlike the one you have on your smart TV), and an endless collection of apps. ZRRO is different in one important aspect: it allows you to touch your TV from the couch, but since it opens the entire Android world to your TV, the benefits are revolutionary.”
Your touchscreen technology is neat, but we’ve seen similar ideas before. What distinguishes your technology from the hover-interaction present in, say, the Samsung Galaxy S4?
“ZRRO uses patented technology called zTouch which was developed in-house. It’s distinguished from current hover interactions on two major aspects:
- Technical superiority:
zTouch allows for multi-hover tracking (any number of fingers at a time), while other solutions can track only one finger at a time.
zTouch can track hover and touch simultaneously and independently, unlike any other solution on the market.
Hover height is up to 3cm (1.2in) with zTouch and only up to 1.5cm with the competitors.
- Usage: Unlike Samsung, which didn’t quite find what to do with the tech, we found an actual usage for the technology.”
Gamers know that responsiveness is critical for gaming — even mobile gaming. Does the latency on your controller measure up to the standard set by conventional game controllers?
“With the current setup the latency is around 100ms, but is mainly due to the communication protocol and OS, so we are certain that we can speed it up with further development.”
The ZRRO is inexpensive, which is good! However, with the rise of 4K televisions, it’s possible that high-end mobile games will overtax the system at high resolution. Are there any existing games that push the system to its limits?
“We’ve tested our system with the most demanding games on the Play Store, and they all performed flawlessly. The ZRRO Box was built to handle high-end Android games and is equipped accordingly.”
What Do You Think?
If you’re interested in the ZRRO, you can check out the Kickstarter here. The console and a controller cost about $150 at the moment (but that will go up to $200 soon) and are expected to ship in September. So far, the campaign has raised more than half of its $200,000 goal and looks like a shoe-in to make its goal.
So, what do you think? Does the ZRRO look like something you’d use in your daily life? Does anyone actually want to play Angry Birds on their TV? Is there a better option out there? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: ZRRO