Using Behind The Set’s new Kiwi device was a bit nostalgic for me. This small box, which lets you surf the Internet on your TV, reminds me of Microsoft’s MSN TV — a device that was big news when it launched several years ago. Today, MSN TV has largely been rendered obsolete by fancier media extenders and media center PCs. Sadly, I think the same may be true of the Kiwi, which has barely gotten off the ground.
Behind the Set is an eight-month-old, privately funded company, and it’s offering the Kiwi on its web site for $100, or the company’s Amazon.com store for $120. The small black box connects to your TV via included RCA composite A/V cables, and to your home network via Ethernet or wirelessly (using a $20 USB adapter that is included in the Amazon package).
I initially thought the Kiwi’s wireless connectivity was its strong point — until I tried it out. The device had no problem finding my wireless network, but it refused to accept my passphrase. I was forced to enter it multiple times — a painstaking process in itself, considering all of the Kiwi’s data entry is done using a remote control and a series of on-screen keyboards that border on nonsensical. The company’s tech support eventually led me through a way to bypass the error.
Behind The Set calls Kiwi “an Internet portal that brings the best of the Internet directly to your TV.” The best of the Internet is — right now — limited to YouTube, ESPN, Picasa, Facebook, MySpace, various Google apps, including Gmail, and a few select shopping sites (including Pizza Hut’s site, which you can use to have a pizza delivered to your home). You can’t venture beyond the content that it offers, and even the available content is restricted: Kiwi uses the mobile versions of web sites.
Chris Squires, Behind The Set’s CEO, says that the mobile sites are used because they are easier to navigate using a remote as opposed to a keyboard and a mouse. And using the Kiwi’s remote (which is actually a Phillips universal remote) can be difficult. When I logged on to Facebook, for example, I had to navigate the page using the left and right arrows — even when I wanted to move up and down.
Squires also says the decision to use mobile sites was made because the high-resolution content of many sites doesn’t render properly on a TV screen, but he notes that the company is not committed to using only mobile versions going forward. In the future, he also says the company plans to boost the amount of web content available on the Kiwi, which would greatly increase its appeal. Still, he says the company does not plan to make the Kiwi a blank Internet terminal that you use to surf the Web at large: Behind The Set’s goal is to offer enough content that you don’t need to go beyond that, he says.
The company also plans to add the ability to access video and photos stored on a USB device (either a thumb drive or hard drive) connected to the device, and the ability to access content that’s stored on a PC connected to the same network. Squires says he hopes to have both of those features ready by the end of the year.
The Kiwi is cheaper than an MSN TV device, which is (surprisingly) still available for about $200. The MSN TV includes a keyboard, though — something the Kiwi would benefit from. Today, you can purchase a laptop for as little as $300 in some cases — so why would you opt for a Kiwi? Squires says the device provides a social aspect that computers lack; people can gather around the TV and watch together. But when I logged into my Facebook page on my living room TV, the Kiwi didn’t hide my password. That’s just a little too social for me.