Monday, July 16, 2012

Turn your TV into an Android tablet

A number of devices that will turn your HDTV into a functioning Android tablet are slated to hit the market this year. The popularity and open source nature of the Android platform coupled with inexpensive hardware has given rise to a number of startups looking to turn ordinary TVs into smart TVs. These devices are mini-computers using cell phone microprocessors to bring the Android experience to TVs with HDMI ports.

No less than 3 startups, each promising to bring the Android platform to your TV, have been successfully funded through Kickstarter, the popular crowd-sourced funding platform. Pocket TV, OUYA, and Equiso Smart TV easily exceeded their funding goals. Pocket TV and Equiso are preparing for production and future shipments while OUYA is still in development.

Pocket TV, from the startup Infinitech, will run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on a 1GHz ARM A9 processor with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal memory. A microSD slot will support an additional 32GB of memory. WiFi and Bluetooth are supported and the device will be capable of displaying a 1080p resolution. Prices start at $129 for the infrared remote Pocket TV and $149 for the gyroscopic, Wii-like remote with keyboard.The Equiso Smart TV features an ARM 1GHz A5 processor with 512MB of RAM running Android 4.0. The Equiso has 8MB of internal storage and a USB 2.0 port for attaching USB devices and external hard drives. The Equiso sports a unique, Janus-like remote with gesture controls on one side and a keyboard on the other side. A gyroscope and accelerometer inside the remote turn off the side that faces down and allow the remote to be used a game controller. The Equiso is expected to retail for $69.

The OUYA is an Android powered video game console that will retail for $99. It features a Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, one USB 2.0 port and a wireless, handheld controller. The OUYA will have its own store for apps and games with free-to-play games for trial versions and games with single and in-game upgrades. The OUYA will run a modified version of Android 4.0 as well.

Another device running Ice Cream Sandwich is the iPPea TV from MIPS Technologies, Inc. The iPPea TV runs a 1.2GHz MIPS processor and features 2GB of internal storage, a microSD expansion slot, a USB 2.0 port and support for 1080p video. No information about onboard RAM is available. A wireless, gyroscopic keyboard/mouse is extra. The iPPea is available for preorder but the online store only accepts payment through PayPal and states,

Import duties, taxes and charges are not included in the item price or shipping charges. These charges are the buyer’s responsibility. You may check with your country’s customs office to determine what these additional costs will be.

This seems unusual for a company claiming to be based in San Clemente, California.

The OUYA and the Equiso are the ones to watch. While the OUYA is in development, the Equiso is expected to start shipping in August. Given the worldwide popularity of the Android platform, it will be interesting to see how much traction these devices will get in the marketplace. If they take off, major companies will take notice. The low price points and features could make for some interesting competition in the console market this holiday season.


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