By Lauren Goode — As more set-top boxes, game consoles and sticks that stream Web video crowd the main television set in the home, a First World problem of sorts has emerged: There are just as many remote controls lying around, and it can be hard to find the content you're looking for.
A New York-based company called Ray Enterprises has created a new style of universal remote control that it hopes will solve this — one that looks more like a smartphone than it does a standard remote.
“Televisions are better than ever, cable and streaming services are amazing — but the device that controls all of this is 50 years old," founder and CEO David Skokna said in a pre-interview with Re/code.
Ray showed off the $199 Ray Super Remote at the Code/Media conference earlier today at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Calif. Skokna joined Re/code's co-executive editor Walt Mossberg onstage for the demo.
The Ray Super Remote has a 4.8-inch diagonal high-res touchscreen, and offers a search function for quick access to channels and programming. It has four physical buttons — mute, volume up and down, and sleep/wake — but every other action happens through the touchscreen.
“I have five remotes at home, next to my couch," Mossberg said on stage. “Does this solve that problem?"
“Yes. Really, it was really born out of frustration," Skokna said. “This helps you search and discover television, and it replaces all the remotes you have in your house."
In many ways, the Ray Super Remote seems to work like other universal remotes: It uses infrared technology, so it can control various devices in the home.
But the difference lies in ease-of-use and its ability to run apps. And, in addition to infrared, the remote works with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ZigBee protocols, so it can wirelessly control “over 200,000 different devices" in the home.
The Ray Super Remote is also supposed to switch inputs — for example, from Dish TV to Apple TV to Roku TV — with a quick tap on the corresponding app icon.
“We completely removed this idea of HDMI ports," Skokna said. (During the onstage demo, however, there were some small glitches with the prototype model, and it didn't switch inputs as fluidly as expected.)
More interestingly, the remote is supposed to “get to know you" over time, based on the live TV programs you frequently watch, and show you which TV shows are trending.
The Ray Super Remote will also run apps. Currently, there aren't apps for services like Netflix; just apps for devices, like Apple TV and Roku, and categories of content, like “Sports." But one example that Ray has built already, using an open API, is a Nest app — so the remote not only controls your media devices but your Wi-Fi-connected thermostat, as well.
The remote is good for 10 hours on a charge, and comes with a charging cradle that presumably will go somewhere in the living room.
“Here's the thing," Mossberg said during the demo. “$199 is the same price as my phone, and that has lots of these apps on it."
“But the phone doesn't change inputs," Skokna said. “So really, those apps aren't replacing your remote control. It's adding another one to the mix. … We built Ray as a new class of device that sits in the living room, and the whole family can use it to control the TV."
While Skokna and his team say that the Ray remote will work regardless of whether there's buy-in from the cable operators, there is the question of how DVRs will work.
Right now, Ray remote users will have full control of Dish Hopper DVRs as well as Dish video on demand, because Ray has worked out an arrangement with Dish. But until other cable operators give the green light, Ray users won't see data from their DVR on the Ray remote.
Skokna says he is confident that his two-year-old startup can make this happen. Previously, he was the co-founder and a partner at the Huge Agency, a digital ad agency that sold to the Interpublic Group in 2008. His right-hand man, Hans Deutmeyer, came from HBO, where he worked on HBO on Demand and HBO Go, among other products.
The Ray Super Remote is expected to ship in the spring.