Given the ever-increasing number of web-based video options, the idea of using a notebook as a primary entertainment device by connecting it to a large screen television is highly appealing. However, the dearth of accessories and applications to optimize the 10-foot viewing experience has been limited. Hillcrest Labs’ Loop—a mouse that works in three dimensions—and its accompanying Kylo web browser is a superb step in the right direction. The intuitive nature of the Loop and the slick interface of Kylo makes this $99 combo worth the investment for anyone looking to ditch (or supplement) cable or satellite TV.
The Loop’s design is simplicity at its best. The device is literally a loop about the size of a bagel; the area meant to be held is slightly thicker and holds two AA batteries. On top of the Loop are just four buttons: Select, Back, Power, and one to freeze the cursor. In between Select and Back is a clickable scroll wheel. The controls work just as those on a traditional mouse, making it highly intuitive for anyone who’s used a computer. Weighing 4.9 ounces, the Loop is light enough so that it’s easy to hold in mid-air for extended periods of time. Included is a small USB dongle that acts as a receiver; we wish we could stow it in the Loop when it’s not in use.
The Loop has a three-dimensional sensor that works similar to the controls for the Nintendo Wii; you simply move your wrist right, left, up, and down, and the cursor zips around the screen accordingly. It’s sensitive enough so that you only have to move your wrist a fraction of an inch to get the cursor all the way across the display.
On its own, the Loop is an innovative device, but when using it with a traditional web browser from half a room away, you quickly become aware of its limitations: icons are just too small to see accurately, and there’s no easy way to type in passwords and usernames. The Kylo browser helps alleviate many of these issues. For starters, the cursor (the Kylo logo) is about four times the size of the traditional pointer, making it easy to view.
Initially, we tried using the Loop and Kylo with a Sony Vaio S equipped with Intel’s Wireless Display technology, which streams audio and video over 802.11n Wi-Fi to a set-top box attached to the TV. Although the image was excellent, the slight delay between moving the Loop and seeing the cursor move on screen made using the browser nearly impossible. We then switched to a wired HDMI connection, which had much less latency.
The browser, which installs in seconds, launches into full screen mode. Filling the center of the window is a grid of different boxes with the logos of 128 sites that deliver streaming content, such as MTV, ESPN, and Netflix (only 32 are visible at a given moment). Above that are 11 tabs that sort the sites by content, such as TV, Movies, Games, Learning, and Shopping. Unlike traditional browsers, the URL bar is at the bottom of the screen, along with icons for Home, Bookmark, and Search. Above them are icons for tabs, an on-screen keyboard, zoom, settings, and other menu options.
As of our testing, Kylo still had the icon for ESPN360, and had not updated it to ESPN3. Still, we were able to get to the new site easily and instantly watch games. (However, this capability is dependent on your Internet Service Provider having an agreement with ESPN.) At full screen, a basketball game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder was almost like watching it over Cable: video streamed smoothly (although it was slightly pixilated) and audio remained in sync.
Other sites worked just as well, with one exception: The powers-that-be at Hulu didn’t like the idea of Kylo, so we were unable to stream video from that site. Still, we were able to get our 30 Rock fix by going to the NBC.com site.
The on-screen keyboard is serviceable, but you wouldn’t want to type anything more than a URL or a search term. One of the other limitations is that while the browser itself is optimized for a 10-foot experience, none of the websites themselves are; fortunately, you have two options to zoom in and click tiny icons. Either use the zoom controls in the Kylo browser, or press the click wheel, then turn it to zoom in and out of web pages. We found the latter option to be the easiest.
Two things would greatly improve Kylo: web sites should automatically expand to fill the screen, and zoom in so that you can read text from across the room. Also, links to sites such as NBC or CBS should lead directly to pages with video, not simply the homepage. These are two issues that Boxee has perfected: For example, with that beta software you can search for a TV show by name, and not have to remember what network it’s on. Also, you can play content stored on your hard drive or network. However, we couldn’t find a way to play ESPN3 content easily on Boxee.
If you’re looking to cancel your cable subscription and use streaming web video as your primary source of entertainment, then Hillcrest Labs’ Loop is a must-have device. In terms of viewing content, we prefer Boxee, as its interface is even easier on the eyes—especially at 10 feet—and it organizes and displays content better. For purely browsing the web, though, Kylo is better. Regardless, you’ll want the Loop for both apps.