Sezmi Opens Up a New Set-top Box

Though I am loathe to encourage any company to create yet another set-top box for my TV, Sezmi is hoping it has the right combination to replace at least a couple of devices connected to your TV. Sezmi (formerly Building B, and not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher-backed SaysMe) hopes to sidestep problems facing other video distribution platforms through a combination of beefy hardware and an antenna.

Sezmi has two components, a set-top box complete with one terabyte of storage and a broadband internet connection, and an antenna.

The Sezmi Flexcast video distribution technology uses a combination of the antenna and a broadband connection to receive content. The antenna captures the digital signals from the major networks broadcast publicly over the air. It will also receive private broadcasts transmitted via spare capacity leased from local TV stations. The broadband connection provides an additional means to receive both web video and supplemental content. This wireless/wired combo means that no new infrastructure needs to be built.

Sezmi relies on over the air transmission because it believes that a handful of networks (NBC, ABC, FOX) represent the bulk of what people watch. If you’re looking for content outside those major channels, Sezmi relies on predictive software to push content it thinks you’ll like to your set top box (it’s got a terabyte, after all). The service is built around an on-demand mindset. When you turn it on, Sezmi’s primary interface organizes content by lists such as “My Genres,” and “My Channels.” There are different “on” buttons for each member of the house, pulling up their personal preferences.

Since Sezmi doesn’t have the full capacity to transmit every channel over the air, it will need to rely on the broadband connection if users want to flip through live TV, which, could cause lag and a bad user experience.

The broadband connection allows for consumer behavior to be tracked to create more highly targeted ads. It also allows networks to create their own hubs which can be filled with supplemental content like web video.

Sezmi is going into private trials with commercial pilot launches will start later this year. Eventually, the equipment will be offered through wireless broadband and regional telephone providers. Sezmi declined to offer any hints as to what pricing will be, though others have reported that Sezmi says it will be half the cost of cable.

Being cryptic about details like pricing made Om skeptical about the company’s claims last year. As he pointed out, MovieBeam, another wireless video provider crashed and burned. The company will need content, and Sezmi didn’t list any official content partners at launch (though a bunch of ex-TV network guys sit on the board). Though the company promises do-it-yourself installation (no cable guy!), there is the hurdle of teaching old TV watching dogs new tricks. Combining over-the-air and broadband may be smart, but it’s also complicated when you try to pitch people.

Plus, the world may be moving in an on-demand direction, but I have yet to find software that can accurately predict what I’m going to like. There are too many nuances and there is still a certain zen-like joy in shutting off your mind and flipping aimlessly through the channels.