Startups at DEMO Target Web-Connected TV

Hillcrest Labs wants to make it easier for couch potatoes to surf the Internet on TV. So it came up with a Web browser called Kylo that can be used comfortably by a person sitting across the room.

Rockville (Md.)-based Hillcrest is among 63 startups unveiling their wares from Mar. 21-23 at DEMO Spring 2010 in Palm Desert, Calif. DEMO is a twice-a-year conference at which fledgling companies can build buzz and seek funding.

Hillcrest built Kylo to capitalize on growing demand for Internet services delivered via the TV. An estimated 10 million people watch Internet videos on such sites as Google's (GOOG) YouTube via computers connected to TVs, according to Forrester Research (FORR). Other research suggests that consumers are increasingly willing to ditch cable or satellite TV service altogether in favor of Internet options.

Also part of Hillcrest's lineup is a device called the Loop Pointer that sells for $99 and is designed to bridge the technological gap between remote controls that can't master a browser and keyboard-mouse setups that don't fit with a living room's décor or ethos. "People learn to point before they can talk," says Hillcrest Labs founder and CEO Dan Simpkins. "As people started using more on-demand video content from the Web on their TVs, we realized that the 50-button remote would not scale to the task." Companies including Logitech (LOGI) and remote control maker Universal Electronics (UEIC) are working on their own devices, using Hillcrest's technology, Simpkins says.

An additional company aiming to enshrine the Web in the living room is GlideTV, based in Pleasanton, Calif. GlideTV makes its own controller, a squarish device with upturned corners that houses a scrollpad similar to those found on notebook PCs. (See images.) The pad supports a "swipe" motion for flipping through content choices, similar to features found in Apple's (AAPL) Mac OS X and iPhone."When you have a lot of choices on your screen, the thing you want is often halfway across the screen, and that can mean 15 or 20 button presses on a remote," says GlideTV's Mike Machado.The device is designed to work with such applications as Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Media Center and Boxee, a service that helps consumers watch on TV content that they've downloaded onto a PC.

VenueGen: virtual meetings in 3D

Spring DEMO hasn't been just about Web TV technology. MightyMeeting executives introduced an application for Apple's iPad that helps people make presentations and collaborate. The software lets users store content remotely and access it via the Web from anywhere. Founder Dmitri Tchereivik said the application was initially developed for smart phones such as the iPhone and others running Google's Android operating system. "The limitation there is with the screen size," he says. "With the iPad, that limitation goes away." Users can send slides, documents, or other business documents to their MightyMeeting Web account. People can attend virtual meetings using PCs or iPads, or simply make presentations to clients directly from iPads. MightyMeeting says it got permission from Apple to discuss its application for the iPad, which is due to go on sale on Apr. 3.

VenueGen is also using DEMO to tout technology that's designed to improve virtual meetings. The company aims to make virtual meetings more lively and engaging by using technology developed for 3D gaming worlds such as Second Life or Worlds of Warcraft. If successful, VenueGen's technology would one-up products from companies such as WebEx, a unit of Cisco Systems (CSCO), and GoToMeeting, a unit of Citrix Systems (CTXS), which popularized the idea of business meetings over the Web. "We never gleefully run to our computers and phones to attend virtual meetings," says VenueGen President Jeff Crown. "People tune out."

Younger workers starting out in their careers especially expect a little more engagement from technology they encounter in the workplace, Crown says. "A 3D environment will help get people viscerally immersed and engaged so that they're paying attention," he says. "If you think of what the Internet was like in 1995, we're at that same point with 3D."

Now in its 20th year, DEMO has proven to be one of the key venues for young companies in the tech world to launch products before an influential audience of analysts, venture capitalists, and tech journalists. Well-known products that were first shown at DEMO include the first PALM handheld, the first Tivo (TIVO), an early version of Linden Research's SecondLife, VMWare (VMW), the Java programming language (JAVAD) (ORCL), and Adobe Acrobat (ADBE).

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