One box to rule them all

Home-grown company Vodoke wants to rule the living room with its unassuming set-top box and motion-sensing remote control.

The little box weighs about 120g, much lighter than the usual run of set-top boxes, which can weigh as much as 2kg.

It is able to integrate pay-television digital broadcasts with free Internet TV offerings such as YouTube and PPTV.

The Vodoke Playstaq2 runs on the Android operating system. It also lets users tune in to online radio, play motion-sensing games, access digital documents and browse the Web.

This smart remote can also "learn" the programmes stored in an existing TV remote. It has an earphone jack, works as a phone receiver for online calls and also functions as a wireless keyboard.

Vodoke's chief executive, Mr Michael Toh, said it caters to a new generation of young consumers who may be less interested in regular shows from pay-TV operators.

Older viewers are used to cable and pay-TV channels such as Discovery, he said. "But if you ask younger people, they may not know what the Discovery channel is. What they know is YouTube. That's why it's quite important that our product is a hybrid of live TV and Internet TV."

Pay-TV has grown over the years, but growth could be tapering off. In 2012, there were 176 pay-TV subscribers here for every 1,000 people, or just 1.7 per cent more than 173 per thousand in 2011.

This was a marked slowdown from 9.5 per cent only a year earlier, according to figures from the Department of Statistics.

Vodoke was founded about five years ago and is headquartered in Hong Kong for administrative reasons. Mr Toh heads its operations from Singapore, where it has up to 30 staff, about 20 of them in research and development (R&D) in software applications and interface.

A handful of people run the Hong Kong office and a Shanghai office. About 30 people are involved in R&D in its office in Shenzhen, China, which handles the hardware and Android OS R&D.

Vodoke said it has, so far, invested "more than US$2 million (S$2.5 million)" in R&D.

Mr Toh said the company puts a lot of effort into R&D and makes its products from scratch because many existing products proved unsatisfactory in terms of quality and user experience.

He said the company had wanted to use third-party remote controls for navigation with the set-top box, to save time and effort. "But then we realised (existing) remote controls killed the experience. None of them could fulfil our requirements."

He said they have tweaked the hardware and software to ensure that videos and games sent through the box are not slow and jerky.

Vodoke's set-top box has already found its way into homes here. About 14,000 went through M1 for its MiBox pay-TV service, which launched last year.

Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital has used Vodoke's set-top box for between 18 months and two years, he said.

In a month or two, the box may also be sold in stores. The dual-core processor version, bundled with a previous generation remote, goes for $269. The newest remote, which has a keyboard and Internet call support, costs $59.

Most Vodoke customers are overseas. They include corporate clients in the hospitality, health-care and telco sectors in Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand. The next one may be in China, where a developer is interested in using its set-top box for serviced apartments.

Business has been good and revenue is currently 30 per cent up from a year ago, he said. But he would not give exact figures.

He added that the company is working to speed up the processing capabilities of its set-top box with a quad-core chip. "For the quad-core box, we are trying to finish the R&D for duo-remote control support, so a user can play games with a friend."

This article was published on May 14 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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