New Product Quick Look
A break with tradition, this week I’m going to highlight a new product that I have been testing. This will be a quick look, not a full evaluation or analysis.
I usually don’t like to write product reviews. The Internet, and YouTube especially, is full of reviews, demos, and product overviews that you don’t need in successful attempts to mine clicks for cash.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the patience to watch someone unpack a product, and then twirl it around showing me all the physical connections and accessories while they mutter on about how it is the greatest thing since sliced bread!
I know how to read! Data sheets or spec sheets give me all the same information a lot quicker.
But as I was chatting online with some of my peers, I realized that not everyone is plugged in to knowing the ’latest and greatest’ products that have appeared, especially when they are more specialized and not mass-market devices like smartphones or tablets.
And even my techie integrator friends were not aware of some of the unusual features in this particular new product.
For Your Consideration
No, I’m not producing an indie movie and asking for your Oscar nomination. I want to introduce you to a new AV remote control that has some very innovative capabilities.
Please understand this is a preliminary “first look”. YMMV, as they say, so do your own homework to determine whether this will work for you.
What Is This Thing?
The product that has me excited is the Caavo Control Center. It is a remote control for your TV / entertainment system that could be a real game changer.
Here’s the TL;DR highlights
$74.99 retail price – I’m putting this first because this is crucial. The Caavo does some of what other remote control systems can do, but it does it dirt cheap. A lot of the features in the Caavo can, until now, only be found on expensive systems costing $300, $500, $1,000 or even much more.
Quick Update: The original price was low at $99, but has since been reduced to $74.99. Paavo is now emphasizing the lifetime subscription option and hardware combo for $159.99, but independent dealers still offer the hardware only price option.
Equally important, some of the limitations of the Caavo (which can be annoying or disappointing) are easily ignored because of the low price. You’ve got to look at the overall product in context of price/performance, not just raw features.
Easy input switching – The heart of this product is making it easy to switch between different video sources. Switching between cable tv/satellite box, streaming media players (AppleTV, Roku, or Chromecast). video game consoles (Xbox or Playstation), or disc players (Blu-ray) is really easy.
Voice control – Caavo has built-in voice control. A small microphone button on the remote stick lets you do almost everything using very simple voice commands.
Caavo also links to both Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant for additional voice control flexibility.
Content Searching – In addition to switching and controlling your equipment, Caavo is placing emphasis on figuring out “what to watch”.
Caavo has a search service that will find programs and movies no matter which service is needed to view them.
In addition to this universal search (which Apple and everyone else is trying to do also), Caavao adds a social element by allowing you to share your own “playlist” of programs or browse public lists from other Caavo users.
How It Works
Caavo consists of a small box and a physical remote control wand. The box has 5 HDMI ports. Four input ports and one output.
Connect the output port to your TV or audio video receiver (AVR) and connect the input ports to your source devices – satellite or cable tv box, AppleTV or other streaming box, Blu-ray player, Xbox, etc.
The key here is that Caavo takes over the HDMI switching. If you currently have everything going into the TV itself, or going into your AVR, you must unplug them and re-connect them to the Caavo.
Caavo can also work with existing AVR and sound bars – they provide setup instructions on this option, so I won’t get into the nitty gritty details.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
The really cool thing about Caavo is that it creates overlay video menus that appear on top of the existing TV program.
Instead of just pushing buttons on a remote control and hoping things work, you can see a quick onscreen menu to easily switch between inputs and change settings.
While walking you through the initial setup, Caavo actually sets up a “picture in picture” display where the source device is shown live in a window on the TV with Caavo instructions above and below the window telling you how to pair the remotes and finish the one-time configuration and setup.
Caavo does an excellent job of automatically detecting your existing devices and setting them up. It detected my brand of TV, streaming media box, and cable box perfectly.
Device Control Hardware
Caavo connects to your local network and the Internet via either Wi-Fi or direct Ethernet. It also has built-in infrared (IR) emitters built into the box and a separate IR cord for placement inside cabinets.
Caavo uses Bluetooth to communicate between the box, the Caavo handheld remote, and some 3rd party devices.
So using a combination of direct network control (IP), infrared (IR), or Bluetooth wireless it can configure itself to control most TV and AV devices.
By using Bluetooth, the handheld remote included with Caavo does not need to pointed directly at your TV or equipment as Bluetooth is an radio frequency (RF) wireless technology.
A Magical Experience
I found Caavo was easy to setup – it took time, but led me through configuring each device that it found and setting them up to be controlled by Caavo.
I had no trouble operating everything using the Caavo instead of the original remotes. For some devices (like the AppleTV, the Caavo provides a much better physical remote than the original confusing touchpad).
Voice control worked well. I could say “Watch CBS” and Caavo will switch to the proper input and then tune the right channel automatically.
Caavo also knows which apps are used on each input. If your AppleTV has a YouTube app but your Amazon FireTV has the Amazon Prime app, when you say “Watch YouTube” it will switch to the right device first.
This is a little hard to explain and much easier to see, but I hope you get the feeling of how easy it makes juggling multiple sources and devices.
Subscription Optional, But Required
Caavo has a monthly subscription plan. After an initial free trial, you’ll need to pay $1.99 per moth or $19.99 per year for the voice control and content sharing/sharing.
Both of these features work in conjunction with cloud-based servers so it is not unreasonable for Caavo to charge a service fee to defray the cost of providing ongoing service.
I’m ok with the subscription pricing, but I know some people are furious about products that have any subscription or ongoing fees, so I feel it is important to clearly mention this and not sweep it under the rug.
I do feel that Caavo downplays the subscription options in their marketing and website information and some consumers will be very upset or annoyed when they realize a monthly fee is required to get the full capability of the system.
Nothing is perfect and Caavo has some limitations. Important to say these are not bugs (features promised that don’t work), but simply additional capabilities that are not included.
No Backlit buttons
I wish the Caavo remote control had backlit buttons. It is hard to see the buttons in the dark.
I understand the tradeoff – backlit buttons requires more power and that would mean making the remote control use rechargeable batteries instead of inexpensive AA. That adds cost to manufacturing and complexity they wanted to avoid.
I think they are also emphasizing voice control (both built in and with Alexa or Google) so if you are picking up the remote less frequently anyway, you’ll be ok with not having backlit buttons.
No Smart Home Integration
Unlike other remote controls that offer some integration with smart home devices, Caavo does not have any smart home features. It cannot dim the lights or lower the shades automatically when you start watching TV.
It cannot show or change the temperature setting of your Nest thermostat, or interface with any other smart appliances.
I don’t really miss having smart home features on the Caavo. Some of the other control systems I have used have very limited integration so the features end-up being cute to play with, but not very useful.
Don’t get me wrong – the high-end systems like Control4, Crestron, and Savant have sophisticated integration with whole-home automation and control systems. It’s just that if you want a straightforward AV control system for a single-room TV and media players, the cost of these systems is a luxury you probably aren’t ready to buy.
No All Devices Supported
As a consumer device, there are a lot of less popular, higher-end devices that are not currently supported by Caavo.
Some of the more advanced AVR (stereo amplifiers) I work with are not supported. Not unreasonable given the consumer focus, but I would like to see the list expanded instead of having to use the “learning mode” to try and configure unknown IR devices.
It’s A Game Changer
Literally and figuratively! With the features available now, I will probably be able to use Caavo instead of some other AV control systems that cost two or three times as much for a fair number of my client installations.
It won’t replace all existing systems, and it doesn’t come close to offering what the higher-end complete automation systems can do, but for only $74.99, it is a great deal and worth considering.