ZeeVee Recasts Zinc Video Browser for the Cloud—and for a New Generation of Internet-Connected TVs

1/7/10Follow @wroush

By the end of the new decade—and probably a lot sooner—television will be just another application of the Internet, the way e-mail and the Web and Twitter are today. All TV sets will connect directly to the Internet, and they’ll have built-in user interfaces that help viewers navigate the universe of digital video content (which is already vast, and will keep growing exponentially).

But we’re not there yet, and the transition is going to be painful and confusing. A handful of companies have stepped forward with software and gadgets designed to bridge the current gap between TV and the Internet: Apple, Roku, Boxee, and ZeeVee are some of the biggest names. None of their offerings are completely satisfying or seamless, but most of these players are working hard to improve their technologies.

Roku, for example, recently added mutiple channels of content to its Internet video player device, which used to stream just Netflix movies. Last month Boxee previewed a gadget called the Boxee Box that lets TV viewers surf all the same TV content available through Boxee’s Mac/PC software, but without a computer in the loop. Apple is the one exception on the list—it hasn’t done much to update its popular Apple TV device since 2008, and CEO Steve Jobs has called TV a “hobby” for the company rather than a business.

That leaves ZeeVee, which has been very busy indeed. The Littleton, MA-based startup reinvented itself early last year after its first consumer product fell flat. (That was a gadget called the ZvBox that converted video from a PC into signals that could travel to a house’s high-definition TVs over coaxial cables.) Now it’s known mainly as a provider of Internet-based systems for connecting high-definition TVs in commercial settings like hotels and bars. But CEO Vic Odryna says the company never quite let go of its original vision of bringing Internet TV into consumers’ living rooms.

Zinc Beta 5 home screen on a Macintosh

Today ZeeVee took the wraps off its latest effort toward that vision. It’s the “Beta 5″ version of Zinc, the company’s software for combining all of the video that your Windows or Macintosh PC can access over the Internet and making it easier to manage on a big-screen TV. Like the Boxee application, Zinc Beta 5 gives TV viewers a single interface for browsing and watching Internet TV, whether it’s an episode of “Glee” from Fox’s website, a “Game Rewind” video from the NFL’s site, a streaming movie from Netflix, or a documentary on Hulu.

“In the future, will there be 100 places to go to get Internet video, or will there be just one?” asks Odryna. “Our bet is that there will be 100…But the living room is a different place [from the den or office]. I am leaning back, with a remote in one hand, a beer in the other, and the last thing I want to do is think about navigating to those 100 places. The power that Boxee and Zinc deliver is a harmonized experience.”

Now, I don’t usually write about software upgrades, but this one makes a good Xconomy story, for at least four reasons. First, despite the prosaic name, this “Beta 5″ release, which is available starting today, is a big improvement over earlier versions of Zinc, which I’ve reviewed here, here, and here. It works smoothly, and makes a credible and compelling alternative to Boxee. (The New York-based startup has been working on a significantly overhauled beta version of its own video browser software, but hasn’t yet made it generally available.)

Second, the Beta 5 version of Zinc is the first one that’s entirely cloud-based. What this means is that the PC and Mac versions are really just beachheads, and that the same underlying software could one day deliver video to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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