Boston’s Litl to Bring Simplicity–and Flash—to Big-Screen Televisions

5/12/10Follow @wroush

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you could also think about karaoke and other group activities and games that would be very different. Then you can think about how the big real estate on an HDTV allows multiple streams—you could be watching something and browsing something and playing something at the same time.”

Chuang says the set-top box project doesn’t signify a move away from the Webbook for Litl, although it is meant to open up a different and perhaps broader path to market for the underlying operating system.

“A set-top box has this interesting ingredient in that it avoids the most expensive cost item in any laptop, which is the screen,” Chuang says. “But I wouldn’t say that our vision is that we are only going to be on TVs. We believe that the power of the Litl OS is that it can work on all of your screens, from handhelds to laptops to TVs. We’re working hard to get our OS working on all of those things, so that you can really experience the power of Litl.”

Here are a few other interesting outtakes from my conversation with Chuang:

Xconomy: When you say “set-top box,” I either think of the Motorola or Atlanta Scientific boxes that you rent from your cable company, or of the much smaller devices like Apple TV or the Roku Player. What will your box look like?

John Chuang: It will probably be someplace in between those two extremes. For folks who are putting TV on TV, the set-top box tends to have silicon [of a certain speed] to play a TV show or a movie or access Hulu or Netflix. We want to be able to do that too, but we think that the apps that really should be on a box like this should do a heck of a lot more. So therefore the silicon we’re putting in our set-top box will be significantly more powerful than anything that’s built for a set-top box right now. Our silicon is more desktop-class silicon, and it’s going to be able to drive apps that require power. Hence our physical form factor is going to be a little bit bigger [than the Roku or Apple devices]. But it will still be reasonable to stick behind your TV.

Remote control for the Litl WebboxX: How closely will the user interface for the set-top box resemble the interface for the Webbook, and what type of remote control will you build for it?

JC: We obviously work a lot with the user interface, and we think the UI for computers needs to be simplified, needs to go away from file management and more toward content management—getting away from the primary function of controlling the computer and going toward the primary function of interacting with your friends and your e-mail and your content. We are taking that same philosophy to the TV, but with even more exceptions, because the TV interface, we think, needs to be much simpler. So something like what you see on the Litl Webbook in easel mode, one could expect something similar to that on the TV. We’re looking for content that is streamlined, easy to flip through, easy to access, that doesn’t have a ton of menus and icons.

In terms of the remote, that is a critical piece of what we’re doing, and we’re going to be introducing a remote that is unbelievably simple. When you think of a remote today you think of something with a zillion buttons. Our remote will have two modes to it. The first mode that is going to be elegant, clean, and simple, will rely on gestures to move between screens on the TV and control our channels. Then, upon a slide mechanism, it will reveal controls that may be similar to a smartphone or a BlackBerry that allow you to thumb- and touch-type. That’s a form factor that people are used to, and it would enable them to do more Web-based inputs.

X: Your remote sounds a lot like an Android phone with a slide-out keyboard—which makes me wonder how expensive it will be.

JC: We are going to have more information about price later on. This whole package is going to be very affordable. The remote will not have a screen on it. It will have a … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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