By Janko Roettgers — How many remotes does it take to watch television, stream Netflix or record your favorite show on DVR?
David Skokna wants to simplify TV, one button at a time. That's why Skokna and his team at Ray Ventures are introducing a remote control to replace all other remote controls this week. The Ray Super Remote, as the $200 device is being called, combines the shape of a traditional remote control with a touchscreen and a customized app experience, and aims to deliver personalized content recommendations straight to your coffee table.
I've had a chance to play a little bit with a Ray remote control during a recent press briefing in San Francisco, and have to say the device looks pretty sleek. It features a 4.8-inch touchscreen, but with a unique aspect ratio that allows it to keep the long and slim design you're used to from your regular remote controls. The design even extends to the cradle that is being used for charging the remote control, which includes magnets to gently lock the remote in place — a very Apple-like experience.On the remote, you'll find shortcuts to different content categories, including TV shows and kids' content, each with lists of what's currently being broadcast, and personalized suggestions for live and on-demand content. Skokna said that personalization is a big part of what makes Ray special. All Rays start with the same content, save for regional differences and the different types of subscription services you subscribe to. “In a week, your Ray may be different from mine," he said, simply by learning what kind of shows you tune in to.
One of the things that's interesting about Ray is that it is a common device. With control moving to phones and apps, increasingly, there are one or two people in a family household who have the power to change the music on the Sonos system, adjust the Nest temperature, or choose the show to stream on TV.
Ray brings that power back to everyone, Skokna said. Of course, one could argue that the same could be done with an iPad mini, which wouldn't even cost that much more. Skokna responded that we are talking about different types of users. High-tech households that already control everything with their iPads aren't really Ray's target audience. Instead, the company is targeting users frustrated with their cable remote and guide, which is why the company already works with all major pay TV services. Users are also able to control Roku boxes and other streaming devices, but Ray simply emulates the traditional Roku remote with soft buttons for this experience, and doesn't offer an ability to directly launch Roku channels.
Here's what's under the hood: Ray is running Android, and comes with Wi-Fi and an IR blaster that's meant to reach every single box under your TV, thanks to IR antennas that have been integrated into three of the four sides of the device. For input, there is a microphone built in as well, but it won't be active when Ray starts shipping. Ray also comes with Bluetooth and ZigBee radios to control thermostats, light bulbs and other connected devices around your house. Skokna told me that it interacts with Nest thermostats, Hue light bulbs and other devices, with the goal of eventually connecting to every device.
Actually, make that almost every device: Each Ray can only control one single TV. So of you have more than one TV in your house, you'll have to also buy more than one Ray remote control — or just keep some of those old-school remote controls around after all.
So how does Ray want to make money? Not with hardware revenue, Skokna said. Instead, he envisions that Ray will eventually add premium services to its free apps and services. Personalized TV show recommendations will always be free, he explained, but Ray could possibly offer sports fans an additional package that gives them instant access to scores right on their remote control. Skokna also said that Ray will eventually have its own app store, with opportunities for third-party apps to run on the device as well.
Overall, I walked away from my demo of the Ray impressed, but not convinced. It's a good-looking device, and the team that built it has definitely thought about this a lot. I'm just not sure people are willing to spend $200 on it, and I wonder whether the single-purpose nature of the device will make it look limited next to the many mobile screens doubling as remote controls we already all have in our pockets, on our coffee tables and even on our wrists.