One of the popular things in tech circles is crowdfunding. If you’re not familiar with the concept of crowdfunding or haven’t heard of sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe, I suggest you read a bit. Crowdfunding is a great way for ideas to grow some legs and allow those entrepreneurs the ability to create while in turn providing early adopters with an opportunity to get the latest and greatest gadgets. Of course, once you dive into the world of crowdfunding you’ll quickly see it’s not just about tech and gadgets but artists and non-profits can use it as a tool to generate awareness. Anyone that wants to raise funds for a project can use this method to get their idea off ad running. I recently decided to fund a project: the SeeSpace InAir.
A while back, last February, I funded a project called SeeSpace InAiR: The World’s 1st Augmented Television (SeeSpace InAir homepage). The premise was pretty cool. You would plug this device between your cable box’s and TV’s HDMI cable. It would take the output from the cable box and process it so that you could bring up information about what you were watching ala Minority Report style.
This very cool device would essentially make any TV a smart TV. I imagined that it would work kind of like how Google offers the ability to listen to a TV and then provide information about what you’re watching. Google hasn’t done much with this feature, but it does let my wife and I settle the occasional quandary of which actor is playing a particular role. It seemed to be a neat addon to be able to get additional information about the show as well as get some additional social media aspect to the what we were watching.
The Nature Of Crowd Funding
The original design for the device looked very neat, something that I wouldn’t mine placing around my home theater. To me, it’s something that could generate a conversation just by someone seeing it sitting there, even before seeing what it does.
However, crowdfunding can be a tricky thing to take part in. As a “backer”, someone who pledges money towards the campaign, it is your responsibility to determine if the idea or project and those people working towards its end goal will be successful. Sites like Kickstarter (rules) have put in place that projects which offer merchandise in return for financial backing must provide some compensation to the backer or else return the money raised. There is, though, no mechanism to prevent outright deception and theft. Therefore, another common item in the list of rules for a campaign is that a project plan must be presented and in the case of gadgets and tech items a prototype must exist. More often than not projects will present the set of risks that they will face.
Note, to date I’ve only backed campaigns which have provided a gadget with the exception of a single campaign for an artist’s CD.
Common hurdles that projects have to clear are with the latter stages of industrial design, production, and shipping. Having a prototype is generally a big step in-of-itself but taking that prototype and turning it into something that can be packaged and sold can be daunting. In the case of the SeeSpace InAiR a large chunk of its delay came from going to the end ship-able design. Once the industrial designing is completed the next problem that a project hits is with the actual production. Another campaign that I backed had a problem in their final design that posed problems during their production run. Even after all the previous hurdles are cleared getting the “reward”, what backers receive, to everyone which funded the campaign can be a mess. Shipping from Asian production facilities to North America and Europe can present many problems. Anyone who has ordered something from an overseas company knows the headaches that can occur with customs, lost orders, etc.
So, what happened with the SeeSpace InAiR campaign? Well, I outlined them all above. There initial design wasn’t practical and they had to change it. Instead of being the cool “puck” design it went to a small candybar stylized black metal enclosure. There was many production setbacks. The software took some additional time to develop and sort out as well.
The silver lining was that shipping was very quick. Once the project creator sent out a notice that they were ready to start fulfilling rewards it only took about a month or so to get a shipping notification. I got that notice for shipping on a Saturday and I had the product on Monday. Nice!
What I Got
I received my InAiR very quickly. I got the shipping notification no a Saturday and the unit was at my house on Monday morning. Maybe they’re shipping from the East Coast? The packaging was very nice. On the back are some instructions on how to complete the setup. These are the only instructions included.
As you can see the end product ended up being much different than what was shown in the original Kickstarter campaign. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was bummed that it changed, but it is nicely made out of anodized aluminium.
Here are the basic inputs for the unit. I say “basic” because these are the low level ports needed to run. There is an IR blaster port. I think this may be eventually used to change the input on your cable/satellite box when you select something on screen. The unit relies on an external power supply which is connected via a USB micro port. The big fat one is obviously the HDMI input.
On one side off the InAiR are common ports for interfacing with external media. There is a micro SD slot, two USB ports, and an ethernet port. The InAiR has built in WiFi for connecting to your home network. I’m not sure if the micro SD slot is for general storage expansion of the unit or if it is designed to accept a card which was previously in your point-and-shoot camera.
The output for InAiR is a single HDMI output. The nice thing about this unit is that it looks like it will run plenty cool. There is generous venting on both ends of the “stick”. On one side of the unit is a single pin hole for reset.
Also in the box is a HDMI cable (no spec written on it, just “High Speed”) and a wall wart to provide power. That’s it! No instruction manual. Nothing regarding warranty or FCC compliance or legal text that you always see at the end of a manual.
Using the SeeSpace InAiR
Here is where I ran into a bunch of problems. The instructions on the back o the box simply say to plug it in between your cable box and TV, plug it into the wall, and follow the directions on the TV screen.
When turning on your TV the screen will show a URL with a QR code which you should navigate to with your mobile device. This link essentially redirects you to your device’s app store to download the InAiR mobile app. Once the app has been installed on your phone and opened you’re greeted by this screen:
Up to this point I was OK with the sparse instructions. Everything seemed straight forward. I grabbed my Nexus 6 (running the latest Lollipop Android 5.0 build) and hooked it up to the InAiR. Then I waited. And waited. After my wife and daughter left the room to go play somewhere else I grabbed my 2013 Nexus 7 (also runing latest Lollipop). It too would never connect. I grabbed my Samsung S3 which is hacked to run Lollipop. It suffered the same fate. I did a quick look around the web and didn’t find an answer.
Frustrated I went back to the Play Store and was going to write a review that basically said the connection didn’t work. Looking in the reviews section someone mentioned that they were having the same problem. SeeSpace replied saying that it was an issue with Lollipop and that they were working on a fix. That was refreshing to see that they acknowledged the issue and were working on it. I found my wife’s Note 2 and tried it. Still not working! It’s a Verizon Note 2 so it’s stuck on KitKat till the end of time.
The response by SeeSpace mentioned the issue had to do with WiFi and Lollipop. I decided to try it again with the InAiR plugged into the Ethernet port. Again, all my devices running Lollipop would not connect. I finally tried the Note 2 and it connected. It wouldn’t connect to my WiFi so it is still connected via Ethernet. I think it uses a protected SSID to connect to and provision the device and then send your network information via the USB cable. Probably a secure way to do the configuration, but not the best implementation. I’m betting that the Lollipop issue has to deal with talking to peripherals via the mobile device’s USB port.
I neglected to take screenshots or write down the entire setup process. It basically asked you to create a SeeSpace account (you can sign in with Facebook). When creating the account you put in your zip code and get back a list of media providers from which you’re supposed to select the one you’re using. I thought I selected the right one but didn’t. Turns out I can’t find a way to change it!
I ended up finishing up the installation. I opened up the InAiR app on my all my other devices and now they could find it on the network. After the boot animation I was greated with the pre-Android 5.0 upgrade screen. Looks like the device is running on a custom version of Android. I’ll have to see if I can get ADB access and tinker around with it.
When I finally got the TV working again it took me a second to figure out how to do anything. It would have been nice if a tutorial would have run on the first startup. Double tapping brought up the menu. Dragging around the screen moved up and down. It took me an hour or so to figure out how to go up and down their menu hierarchy.
The second issue I ran into was that the guide feature didn’t show the HD channels that I use. The channels were correct for 0002-0069 but they stopped there. It didn’t include all the channels from my provider. Sigh. I then spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to change the provider. I eventually resigned myself to the fact that you can’t.
I tried out the “Track” feature which should recognize music in the program. While watching Dancing With the Stars it wasn’t able to pick up any songs. Oh well, not a feature I’d use that often. Turns out that I wasn’t able to get any other context specific apps to work. It didn’t pick up any contextual info or keywords. Well, what is thing good for? My thought is that since my program guide wasn’t working correctly it wasn’t able to figure it all out.
The final straw came when my wife wanted to get caught up on Once Upon a Time. After about 20 minutes of watching I noticed that the dialog was not matching lip movement. This drives me nuts. I hate it when I have that problem on Hangouts. My thought is that it either had to do with our on demand connection or the InAiR. Well, I pulled the InAiR out and the problem went away. It wasn’t super bad to begin with, but at least I’m pretty sure that there was a noticeable difference when the InAiR was passing through the stream. The jury’s still out, but if this is a true issue than it would be a non-starter no matter if all the other issues were fixed.
Hopefully I’ve given you a good high level view of the SeeSpace InAiR. It looked like a promising crowdfunded smart TV appliance. I had decent hopes for it. Coupled with the number of delays to get the device along with its poor performance out of the box I cannot recommend anyone get one just yet.
I’m very intrigued with where they’re going to go. It being an Android based device it seems like they could fix most if not all of the issues that I’ve pointed out. There is a lot of potential in their product. It’s why I backed it. Again, if they fix the issues and it gets to be a usable product then I’ll revisit my review. Until then I’ll mess around with it further, but I’m not feeling that it will be a long term addition to my TV viewing experience.