SkreensTV wants to turn your TV into a multi-screen content-streaming machine

By Michael Carney , written on November 13, 2014

From The News Desk

Anyone who’s ever walked into a sports bar, or better yet a casino sports book, knows the experience of watching multiple television streams at the same time. It’s both overwhelming and exhilarating, maddening and liberating. No longer do you need to decide which game to display on your lone screen. Instead, the viewer gets access to ALL of the content he could want, with the only decision being simply where to point his eyes at any moment in time.

A new product called SkreensTV is launching via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign today with the aim of bringing the same type of experience into living rooms, using a standard large screen TV. SkreensTV is seeking $200,000 via a flexible funding model, meaning it gets to keep whatever it raises, even if falling short of that target.

Using a small accessory set-top box with five HDMI inputs, and an accompanying HTML5 application, SkreensTV allows the viewers to tile, resize, and rearrange multiple content streams simultaneously on a single screen using an accompanying iOS or Android mobile app. Users can then save favorite layouts to be used again in the future – for example, one streaming Satelite TV, accompanied by a console gaming environment, and a live twitter feed arranged in the perfect size and layout.

“The TV is the biggest screen we own, but its range is painfully limited," says SkreensTV founder and CEO Marc Todd. “SkreensTV combines everything you love about TV with all the amazing stuff you do online on one screen. There no longer needs to be a choice between watching your favorite show, switching between games or giving up control of the remote. SkreensTV gets the best out of all your devices and puts it on one screen – you get to control how your TV pixels get allocated and make your TV more than what it is today.”

Anything that can be transmitted over an HDMI cable is fair game, meaning a cable/satellite TV, DVD/Blueray, gaming consoles, AppleTV/Chromecast/Roku/FireTV, and PCs are supported. Users can choose which content stream’s audio is heard through the TV speakers or streamed via bluetooth or wired headset to the user’s connected tablet or mobile phone.

Broadcasting more than two or three content streams simultaneously may be overkill, depending on the size of your screen, your seating position, and your tolerance for visual chaos to, but the point is that StreamsTV gives the user much needed flexibility that has thus far been missing from the at home TV experience – the closest we’ve come is basic picture-in-picture, which lacks anywhere near the flexibility of the SkreensTV product.

The SkreensTV was designed with a cutting edge reconfigurable hardware architecture, based around a Xilinx Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoC (system on a chip). This makes the platform somewhat future-proof, according to Todd, who explains that main implication of this technology to be that SkreensTV can ship its high-powered hardware to its customers today and then re-allocate the resources within that unit at a future date via over-the-air (OTA) software updates. This means that SkreensTV may actually get more efficient and more powerful over time, even without its users having to upgrade their hardware devices.

Other hardware features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, two USB ports, S/PDIF fiber out, built-in storage memory, and a microSD card reader. The standard SkreensTV comes with 4GB of on-device storage, but upgraded models with 32GB and 64GB are available, space that can be used to store content like home videos and photos. The device itself is 7 inches long by 3 inches wide by 2 inches tall and comes only in white at this stage, although the company says additional color options will be available in the future.

Todd has been developing SkreensTV for more than two years, but the idea is really more than a decade in the making, he says. Based in Boston, Toxx has extensive prior experience building reconfigurable video hardware, having previously founded IneoQuest, a video monitoring company serving content providers and telcos. Solving his own consumer viewing problems was simply the next step after a decade spent solving similar problems in the enterprise.

So that’s the good news.

The bad news? First, SkreensTV will cost a whopping $499 at retail – $399 for early Indiegogo backers – making it anything but an impulse purchase. At that level, this is a premium product that will only appeal to true sports fanatics and AV aficionados, many of which might still conclude that they’d be better of spending a bit more to mount a second TV rather than split the real estate on a single screen of modest size.

Then again, a top of the line Sonos installation can cost in the range of $1,000 with multiple components, and yet the wireless speaker setup has proven wildly popular as an inexpensive alternative to wiring a traditional home audio system. Todd is hoping that SkreensTV can offer a similar type of high-tech, but moderately priced alternative to expensive home theater setups.

The other issue with SkreensTV is that the devices aren’t expected to ship until Winer 2015, a full year from the conclusion of this campaign. It’s one thing to plop down a few bucks casually for some kickstarter tchotchke and wait patiently for it to be delivered (or not), but at $400 to $500 we’re talking real money and a year is a long time to wait and a lot of faith to ask. By that time the landscape of competitive products could look dramatically different as Apple TV, Chromecast (Google), XBox (Microsoft), Playstation (Sony), Samsung, and others introduce their next generation consoles and smart TVs.

Consumers will need to really buy into the Skreens concept and the OTA updatability to buy into this pitch. Some might, but it will likely be a leap too far for most.

Beyond the price point, the crowdfunding risk, and the delivery timeline, SkreensTV’s biggest obstacle is that it’s a product from an unknown company. And even if it delivers as promised and solves a real problem, building trust and awareness is difficult even for established brands. Todd’s big bet is that he can get a small but passionate group of early enthusiasts, presumably hardcore sports, gaming, and television fans, to adopt and evangelize the SkreensTV product on his behalf. This will be a crucial step that will likely have as much to do with SkreensTV’s long-term success as anything.

Todd claims to have working prototypes of the SkreensTV, including those seen in his Indiegogo video, but I can’t vouch for this fact personally. He also admits that the SkreensTV supply chain is a work in progress, which absolutely calls into question any promises about delivery timelines as well as the underlying cost assumptions on which the company is building its financial projections.

Todd’s experience and the fact that he has successfully bootstrapped the product to this point should offer some consolation to concerned prospective backers, but in the world of crowdfunding over-promising and under-delivering (let alone outright fraud) is sadly the norm. Even the most well-intentioned campaigns often fail to deliver as promised. Todd has given us no reason to believe that SkreensTV is anything but an honest and ambitious attempt to reinvent the home content viewing experience, but until the company delivers a working product, these intentions will only buy so much faith.

“It’s definitely my intention to make sure that we ship the product,” Todd says. “But I totally agree. I’m one of those people who has those same questions about crowdfunding. That’s why we’ve spent the last two years in stealth mode making sure those elements are put together. It’s not slidewear. We're going to change the way people experience content and help them get the most out of their existing devices and content.”