SkreensTV promises to render picture-in-picture mode useful

SkreensTV

Does your TV have picture-in-picture mode? I’ll bet you a bowl of virtual popcorn you never use it. I don’t use mine for a number of reasons. I don’t get audio with the second video for one thing, but it also sits atop the primary video, I can’t resize it, and switching between the two feeds (and there are only two) is a pain in the remote.

So I’m positively giddy about the prospect of installing a SkreensTV box in my home theater. The only problem is that I’ll have to wait 13 months to get my hands on one, and that’s assuming the company enjoys a successful Indiegogo campaign (it aims to raise $200,000 by December 13). But when you hear what they’re promising to deliver, I’m sure you’ll agree that funding shouldn’t be an obstacle.

SkreensTV is picture-in-picture on steroids. The box can put video feeds from your set-top box, Chromecast, gaming console, home-theater PC, webcam, Skype session, Blu-ray player, IP security cameras, and more into picture-in-picture windows on any TV with an HDMI input. You can resize and reposition each window using a smartphone or tablet app. What’s even cooler is that you can not only switch which audio feed is live on your TV, but you can also stream discrete audio feeds from each input to individual mobile devices over Wi-Fi.

SkreensTV

You don't have to choose between the SkreensTV's five HDMI inputs, content streaming over its gigabit ethernet port, or coming from its onboard storage or a USB hard drive. You can display everything at once.

So if you want to watch a movie while your kids play a videogame on an Xbox or PlayStation, you can split the screen anyway you want and have the movie’s soundtrack play through the TV while the game’s soundtrack streams to their headphones via their own smartphone or tablet.

During those sports season overlaps, you can watch a football game in one window and a baseball game in another. You could watch your movie in one window, find other films by the same director by looking him up in IMDb on your home-theater PC, and monitor your Dropcam feed in a third. Kids can’t decide between an Xbox and a PlayStation? Buy both and they can game on the same TV at the same time.

Unlimited PiP?

From what the folks at SkreensTV tell me, there’s no virtually limit on the number of times you can divide your TV’s screen. There are limits on where those feeds can come from, but five HDMI 1.4 inputs, gigabit ethernet, and two USB ports should accommodate just about anyone’s needs. The box has a S/PDIF audio output, but it will also pass digital audio—including high-definition Dolby Pro HD and DTS HD Master Audio—through to an AV receiver that can decode them.

SkreensTV will be available with 4-, 32-, or 64GB of onboard storage, so you’ll be able to store digital videos and photos right on the box. But I imagine most people will opt for the least-expensive model and rely on network storage (that’s what I would do, although that device will need to have either an HDMI or an HTML user interface. Something like QNAP’s TS-469 Pro would be ideal.

SkreensTV

Sports nuts will love SkreensTV. You can watch several games at once while monitoring your online fantasy league in another window.

Maximum input resolution is 1080p, but the box can output up to 4K video (being HDMI 1.4, the refresh rate will be limited to 30Hz). The folks at SkreensTV tell me 4K output “will allow full pass-thru without degradation in the quality of resolution of the 1080 inputs in a four-screen configuration.” That tells me you might see some compression artifacts when splitting a 1080p display, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t seen the box in action, so I can’t comment as to the quality of its video. There’s a good video demo available on YouTube.

Why can’t regular TVs do this today? Because building that capability into a TV would be prohibitively expensive. SkreenTV is offering its backers discounts of $100 off its anticipated retail prices, and it’s still not cheap: $399 for the 4GB model, $499 for the 32GB version, and $599 for the 64GB device. 

Under the hood

But when you consider that in addition to ethernet and Wi-Fi adapters, storage, and five HDMI inputs, the SkreensTV is powered by a Xilinx Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoC (an ARM Cortex A9 MPCore processor), those price tags don’t seem unreasonable. I can't imagine the processor power that must be needed to sync all those audio and video inputs and avoid input lag.

If you want to build something on top of what SkreensTV has created, the company is offering an SDK with its 32- and 64GB models that will allow third-party developers to create HTML5 and JavaScript apps for the box that can be sold in its online store.

I’m excited about this product. It easily passes the high threshold we’ve established for covering crowdfunded projects at TechHive. What do you think of it? Is this a project you could get behind? Will you wait for it to ship before plunking down your cash? Or do you think TV will just rot your brain? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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