Meet The Guru Whose Kickstarter Project Wants To Change TV Forever

adam mcbrideAdam McBride, founder of Equiso

Photo: Kickstarter

Equiso recently met its $100,000 fundraising goal on Kickstarter to bring Android-powered HDMI sticks to consumers, effectively turning televisions into Internet-connected media centres.Founder Adam McBride came by our office to give us a demo, and we were impressed by what we saw.

Here’s the rundown on what we learned from talking to him:

  • The Smart TV is based on a concept put forward by someone at MIT.
  • Because it’s so small, heat dissipation presented a problem in the design process.
  • ARM redesigned the processor used in the device, making it faster and better.
  • The remote works exactly like a Nintendo Wii remote, but you don’t need an extra sensor bar.
  • It runs HBO GO!

BUSINESS INSIDER: Where did the Smart TV come from?

ADAM MCBRIDE: The original designer is a guy from MIT. He said, “Hey, let’s go ahead and put Android on a little HDMI stick.” He developed it two years ago, but it was really, really expensive.

So I saw it, and I said, “This is actually a good idea, not a bad thing at all.” He was using all Texas Instruments internal parts. I said, “I bet we could make it a better experience, because I have a software company, and we develop software for people all day.”

He said, “It’s not so much the hardware sometimes as the software with the hardware.” Look at what you get when you a buy a MacBook – what’s the difference between an HP laptop and a MacBook? About the same specs, but people buy the MacBook more because they liked the experience better.

BI: What kind of challenges did you run into?

AM: It was really hard to design it all and put it into a small, little package. The main concern was always heat. When you design something that small, you get a lot of heat buildup. It’s different from a mobile phone. mobile phones can have a long heat sink go through the whole length of the mobile phone. iPad — same thing too. You look in the back, the whole thing’s a heat sink in the back. So with ours, we don’t have that.

That was one of the biggest things we had to figure out – how to get the performance in there while at the same time making sure it doesn’t generate all this heat. Luckily, while we were doing it, ARM redesigned their A5, which doesn’t put out that much heat at all. On top of that, it’s a great-performing processor. It actually outperforms their A8, the one above it

BI: What build of Android were you working with?

AM: 4.0 [Ice Cream Sandwich]

BI: What did you have to build into Android to make it work on a TV?

AM: We taught it to respond to our gesture remote. That was one of the things we built from the ground up and we were inspired from different places on how to build the remote. But one thing we always noticed is if you look at the Apple TV remote, it has a little infared sensor in the front, and sometimes you use something else. We said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just have a remote that you can scroll up and down with and whatever else and you don’t have to have a sensor bar anywhere, where you just build the sensor straight into the Equiso Smart TV?” So that’s what we did.

There’s an accelerometer and a gyro in there, so when you move it, it detects it and sends that signal back to the Smart TV, and transcribes that into a mouse being moved on the screen.

BI: So it’s like a Nintendo Wii controller without the sensor bar?

AM: Exactly. 

BI: Was there any consideration about the fragmentation of Android? A lot of major video streaming apps don’t work on all Android devices.

AM: With Android it’s really interesting because Google’s trying to push their own Google TV right now. But with Google TV you can’t get Hulu or anything else like that. Hulu has these contracts saying, “If you have a device that’s going to be hooked up to a cable connection, then we can’t have Hulu on there.” If we look at Boxee, Boxee has a coaxial cable for plugging in your DirecTV, Dish Network, or your Comcast cable. That’s why none of them have Hulu on there. So we said, “The future is not really Comcast or Dish Network. The future is online videos, and Hulu’s part of it.” So we decided not to go the Google TV route and instead use the Android operating system and create our own custom media centre.

We just recently teamed up with Plex. We’re looking at actually integrating it throughout the whole operating system. So you can have widgets built onto the screen that show your meetings and everything else like that. We’re looking for a more integrated experience than just having Plex as another app on there.

BI: Any chance it’ll run HBO GO?

AM: Yeah, it runs HBO GO. I have HBO GO on there, but I don’t have an account.

BI: What type of feedback have you gotten? What are sceptics saying?

AM: When we first came out the first thing was legitimacy. That was the biggest thing. People said, “How can you do something for so cheap?” And we say, “Well, we’re building it in-house. That’s why we can do it at this price. We’re not like a third-party doing it. We have the remote included for $69 plus free shipping, which makes it pretty awesome. The other thing from the community is that a lot of them want an integrated experience, which is what we’re doing with Plex.

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