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Snapstick takes on Apple TV, Google TV

A young startup is about to shop around for takers to its alternative to getting Web content onto TVs.

Snapstick can use the iPhone to choose an Internet video that plays on this TV monitor.
Snapstick in action in CNET headquarters on an iPhone 4 and TV monitor.
James Martin/CNET

A startup called Snapstick is introducing its spin on Internet TV today that it hopes will compete heavily with Apple TV, Google TV, and other set-top boxes.

If you believe the demo video, a person holding an iPhone can "flick" the content toward a TV screen, which will suddenly begins playing the same content.

But how? Snapstick doesn't miraculously siphon videos from the iPhone to the TV. At this early, private beta stage, it's a software platform that can help your TV display streaming Web content--like those jealously protected Hulu videos--on its screen. Although that iPhone--or any other Web-enabled device--is important in the equation, it's only in the role of a convenient, familiar controller for browsing and selecting the Web content you want to see on the big screen. The iPhone, or Android phone, or laptop takes the place of a remote or keyboard necessary to control Roku set-top boxes and Google TV for example.

Snapstick's real argument is the software. One portion is responsible for streaming Web content to the hardware component that then pushes the content to the TV screen. A second portion communicates over a Wi-Fi network with whichever device or devices you deem the controller.

Although you can control the Snapstick software from any Web site, the team showed us an iPhone app that simplifies the process. Thanks to the accelerometer, you can also trigger the Snapstick software to start streaming Web content with a firm flick or snap of the iPhone, the motion that gives the company its name.

Snapstick iPhone app
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

If it's not a set-top box, what is it?

Since Snapstick isn't a product yet on sale to the consumers, it's hard to name the form it will take. The company is only now starting to show the product to potential partners. After that, it could become embedded within existing devices like Blue-Ray players, TVs, or possibly even a set-top box.

Snapstick also hopes to license its software to existing set-top box manufacturers. At present, Snapstick created a separate box for demonstration purposes. It contains a router, which handles the actual Web streaming, then pushes content to the TV screen through an HDMI cable.

Cables and cords have long turned TV monitors into passive second screens, and Snapstick is no different. Its Internet engine accesses public Internet content and simply displays it on your TV screen--that goes for Hulu, and Skype. You better believe we tested CNET videos, too.

Of course, unlike Google TV, which attempts to seamlessly intersperse the experience of viewing Web content alongside standard and cable TV channels, Snapstick's only aim is to offer potential customers the Internet portion of the solution. We'll be keeping our eye on this and other competing solutions.