ZeeVee Admits Missteps, Goes Pro and Apes Boxee

It’s always refreshing when a CEO owns up to mistakes their company makes. That was the case when I spoke with Vic Odryna, CEO of ZeeVee, who admitted that his company misjudged the market for its Zv100 set-top box. Rather than throwing good money after bad, Odryna put the Zv on the back burner to focus on products for the commercial market and today gave a facelift to its GUI browser that even Odryna says is an awful lot like Boxee.

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The Zv100 set-top box promised to deliver the web video experience to your TV. It was less a set-top box and more a way to turn your big screen TV into a monitor that browsed the web using your PC. Odryna said that at $499 the Zv100 was just too expensive for people, especially in a down economy. On top of that, it was just too complicated for users to set up (an issue we found so frustrating that we just gave up on the darn thing). Odryna said that they only sold a few thousand Zv100 units, and decided to shelve work on the product just two months after it launched in July of last year.

ZeeVee discovered that while its technology wasn’t wanted in the home, there were other industries that were interested and willing to pay for the ability to distribute HD content to their own local systems. With the Zv100 box on hold, ZeeVee focused on creating the ZvPro 250, which launched two weeks ago. The $2,500 price tag is too steep for most consumers, but it’s cheap for places like hotels looking to create and distribute HD content to a network of televisions.

Today’s announcement was about an update to its Zinc browser (formerly known as the ZViewer), which is a graphical interface for watching video content. It’s a lot like, well almost exactly like Boxee in that it tries to aggregate a whole bunch of premium content sources into one location, and optimizes the experience for ten-foot viewing. Zinc strictly uses public RSS feeds, so it believes it can sidestep issues Boxee had like Hulu pulling its content from the service (though using RSS feeds still got Boxee into hot water with Hulu).

Zinc is a free downloadable app that works on PCs (no Macs yet) and can be controlled a mouse, keyboard, or by using a home theater PC remote. We only got a look at a very early, very rough version of the Mac product, so it’s tough to make much of a judgment about it (you can read Liane’s initial impressions from the earlier beta).

It’s a little odd for a hardware company to be mimicking an open-source startup that currently isn’t worried about generating revenue. Odryna believes that’s exactly why his company can carve out its own niche in the space, because ZeeVee relies on hardware for revenue instead of Zinc.

Despite these new directions, ZeeVee hasn’t given up entirely on its Zv100 box; the company is back to the drawing board with it and will release an updated version later this year. Odryna said ZeeVee is comfortable with the two rounds of undisclosed funding it’s raised so far, and that there have been no layoffs at the company.

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