If at first you don’t succeed, slash your price and try, try again.
That’s the thinking now being applied by Caavo, the company which launched a new-age universal TV device back in February. I reviewed it and liked many things about it, but I also complained about its $400 price, difficult setup, and many quirks, including a lack of HDR support.
Someone over at Caavo HQ was listening. Less than eight months later, that bulky $400 Caavo has vanished. In its place is a brand new $100 Caavo that’s a third the size and a quarter the price of its defunct predecessor.
The new Caavo looks a lot like the old Caavo, just without all the expensive design elements. Caavo has given up the idea that it’s box will be a fashion statement in your living room. The replaceable bamboo/wood covers are gone, as are the stylish, annoying pegs that organized each HDMI cord, aligning it straight out the back, yet made it awkward (or impossible) to insert larger HDMI sticks or dongles like a Chromecast. The number of devices Caavo can connect with at a time was cut from eight to four—probably more than enough for most people—and HDR/Dolby support was added for those with more advanced TVs and audio equipment.
Wait, What Is Caavo Again?
The Caavo Control Center and Universal Remote, as it’s long-windedly called, lets you control your TV, and all of the devices attached to your TV, with a single universal remote. It works with all the top streaming devices, like Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, or Nvidia Shield (Android TV). Live TV channels on cable boxes and video game consoles aren’t a problem either.
Have more than one device hooked up to your TV? Caavo wants to unify them. It works best if you own, say, a Roku, DVD player, and PlayStation 4. Instead of connecting those devices to your TV’s HDMI ports, you plug them into Caavo, which acts as a middleman and organizer of your streaming life.
It goes a step further, too, letting you connect streaming TV accounts like Netflix and Hulu directly to it, so you can jump right into them without worrying about which device they are on.
The Highlander of TV Remotes
I went into the setup process in great detail in the first Caavo review. The new model’s setup is mostly the same, and a bit easier. Basically, you connect all your boxes and then answer a series of yes/no questions to let Caavo know that your Fire TV is actually a Fire TV, or if you’re using a soundbar (you should be!) or not.
You’ll need to buy an HDMI cable. Caavo requires one but does not pack it in the box.
When it comes time to log into Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, HBO, and the other streaming services Caavo supports, it outsources the work to your PC or Mac, giving you a code that you enter on the Caavo website to finish that process. Since I’m an experienced Caavo-er, my setup was shorter and smoother this time, but the process was still slowed by poor directions and a Caavo’s failure to explain some details. In all, it took me a little over a half hour to hook things up.
Once you get used to it, the Caavo remote kinda pulls a Highlander and becomes the only remote you use. No, it doesn’t destroy your other remotes in an epic Battle Royale, it just turns them into irrelevant clutter. I’ve been able to hide away my Android TV remote, television remote, Roku remote, and Xbox controller (at least until I want to play an actual game). Caavo’s remote maps the controls of each device flawlessly and controls them just as well as the standard clicker. The Back button always takes me back, and the direction wheel and OK button work as expected, along with a few extra buttons down below. It’s especially nice on game consoles like Xbox. It normally takes a few seconds for an Xbox One game controller to boot up, and it’s not the most elegant way to browse menus since it requires two hands. Caavo makes it faster and easier to use game consoles for their streaming capabilities.
If I do get confused what a button does, I like that I can touch it lightly with my thumb, prompting an on-screen popup that tells me what the button does in this app/device. Small UI details like this are where Caavo shines.
Hitting the big silver “Caavo” button brings up a menu that lets you easily swap between your connected devices (here’s its full compatibility list). Think of this menu as a simpler, easier way to switch between HDMI ports, like you normally do with your TV’s Input button. It’s proactive, too. If you pick up your actual Xbox controller and turn it on, Caavo will auto switch to Xbox on its own.
The second option in that Caavo menu is Apps. This is where you can jump directly into Netflix, CBS All Access, or whatever apps you like to use. Caavo automatically opens each app on the device it deems best, but you can manually choose which device to use too. This is where some of Caavo’s limitations begin to show. While it can automatically open apps on streaming TV devices like Apple TV, Roku, or Fire TV, it cannot do that on a video game console. With consoles, the best Caavo can do is open the main menu for you—or get you in the front door.
Caavo is also still a work in progress. My box suffered a couple weird fits of rebooting on my Vizio TV or just not starting immediately when I turn it on. It also got confused when I swapped a Roku Premiere Plus for a very similar Roku. Chances are low that you’ll see the same error, but it’s a small example of how much compatibility work is ahead for the Caavo team.
If the features I described above sound exciting to you, stop reading now and go buy a Caavo. If you have a few devices connected to your TV, a $100 universal remote controller that stitches them together is worth it. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. To use Caavo’s three other features, you have to buy a subscription that costs $2 per month, or $20 per year. That would be fine except the additional features aren’t really the kinds of things you’d expect to find behind a paywall.
You need a subscription to search for TV shows and movies with your voice. I like using voice. It’s a lot faster to say “Watch Steven Universe” than it is to type it out. Caavo wants to charge me a monthly subscription to do that, and I don’t love the idea, especially since they haven’t made search much better than that. For example, I still can’t say “Watch the latest episode of Steven Universe” and get a logical result, nor can I always trust the search will show me the proper results. Sometimes I’ll ask it to watch a show like WWE Monday Night Raw (I enjoy wrestling), yet instead of directing me to Hulu like it should, Caavo might take me to a YouTube clip, or Amazon Prime purchase page.
With the subscription, you also get a new option called Watch. Caavo lets you browse user-created playlists of movies or TV shows. On mine, there’s a big list of “15 Extremely Underrated Films” right now, followed by “18 Classic Fall Films” and some lists from celebrities and “tastemakers,” which is likely code for folks that have a strong social media following. It feels like content you can already find online, for free. Theoretically, you can make your own lists too, but this feature doesn’t seem to work on my unit yet. The entire Watch menu feels unfinished. It should include a list of cooking shows because it needs more time to bake.
Finally, subscribers get some Alexa and Google Home compatibility, but they require very specific commands like “Hey Google, tell Caavo to Play Stranger Things.” Your mileage will vary, but if I have to remember to tell Google to tell Caavo to play something, I usually just find the Caavo remote and tell it directly.
All of these features are fun, but they feel like core functions, not extra features worthy of a monthly fee. Psychologically, it feels like greed. Caavo may lose more potential customers than it gains by requiring a subscription for basic features.
If you can ignore the voice control hiccups, or aren’t bothered by the $20 per year subscription, Caavo is a fun product that solves a problem many of us have. It isn’t yet the perfect universal remote, but I’m optimistic it could be. Consider that Caavo completely rethought and remade its physical product in just eight months. I am excited to see how much the company can improve its software and service in the near future.