When, it sounded too good to be true: ditch your cable box for a small streaming puck that can access all your cable and streaming video content in a truly slick interface. The only problem was Fan TV didn't have any agreements with cable or satellite providers, making the box feel more like a cool tech demo rather than a viable product.
Today Fan TV is taking a big jump toward making the product a reality, announcing a partnership with Time Warner Cable that will allow subscribers to access cable content on the Fan TV box. Time Warner Cable is the second largest cable company in the US, giving Fan TV a relatively large footprint to get its upstart TV box off the ground.
The new agreement doesn't make Fan TV a total cable box replacement, as the box will only be able to access the content that's available on Time Warner Cable's mobile app. Depending on the cable package you subscribe to, it's a healthy selection of live TV (up to 300 channels) and video on-demand content (up to 5,000 on-demand titles). A big catch is that there isn't any DVR functionality, so Fan TV can't directly record shows, nor can it access recordings on your DVR if you also have a cable box. However, unlike TWC's mobile apps, Fan TV can pause live TV, using its built-in 4GB flash memory as a buffer.
The ability to access Time Warner Cable's app content on a set top box isn't new ---- but Fan TV's advantage is its killer user interface. It looks far more polished and responsive than any cable or satellite box, and it's controlled using a buttonless remote that's based on gestures.
Like Fanhattan's mobile apps, Fan TV can also look across several different services to find content, so you only need to search once to find where a movie or TV show is available. Of course, all of my impressions are based on press materials and a short demo over video conference, so I'll need some hands-on time to see if it feels as slick as it looks.
One stumbling block looks to be app support. At launch, the Fan TV will be limited to just Redbox Instant, Crackle, Target Ticket, and Rhapsody. That's a meager collection of support services, even for a launch, missing basically every major app, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Spotify, and HBO Go -- although the box's presumed inclusion of TWC's HBO on-demand channel may ameliorate that somewhat. Fan TV says "more streaming services will be added over time" and that will be essential to delivering on the promise of being one interface for all your video content.
Fan TV is available for preorder today and plans to ship in the second quarter of 2014. The box costs $99, and unlike similar products like TiVo, Fan TV requires no monthly fees beyond your cable and streaming service subscriptions.