Mohu channels: Over-the-air TV, streaming apps and more
Mohu made its name selling flat antennas for receiving over-the-air TV, but it's now the latest company jockeying to be the media box in your living room.
The Mohu Channels set top box was announced yesterday via a Kickstarter campaign and it's already nearing its $35,000 goal. It's part over-the-air tuner, part streaming media box, part web browser, and the idea is to bring all of these types of content into the traditional channel grid.
More interesting than the box is the remote. It sports a full keyboard for entering search terms and long URLs, plus it's motion-sensitive for controlling an onscreen cursor. The remote communicates with the Channels box using RF, rather IR, so you can hide the Channels box behind your TV and the remote still works. The keys are backlit and they illuminate as soon as you pick up the remote. The remote reminds me a lot of the controllers included with old Google TV devices, which certainly offer a lot of functionality, but can also be overwhelming.
The remote is programmed to work with Samsung TVs out of the box, but it has the ability to learn for any remote that you have. That means not only will it work with whatever brand TV you have, but you can also teach it to control a sound bar or AV receiver.
On one side, the box has four ports: HDMI, Ethernet, USB, and power. There's also built-in Wi-Fi, although no dual-band support. The USB port may seem promising as a way to add DVR capabilities and media playback from a USB drive, but at the moment it's not used for much beyond being able to connect a full-sized keyboard, or firmware updates if Mohu's server is down.
The program guide is the main screen where you'll interact with the three types of content Mohu Channels serves up: over-the-air TV, apps (from Android), and Web pages. They all show up in the same channel grid, with Netflix in the same column as channel "9.1" and ESPN's home page. Over-the-air channels show up exactly how you'd expect them, and all the program guide information is pulled from the TV signals themselves, rather than a separate provider.
Since the box is built on Android, that means you'll also have access all of the apps in the Google Play store. That opens up tons of content choices -- including Netflix, HBO Go, Spotify, Pandora and Showtime Anytime -- but the drawback is you'll be using the mobile versions of these apps, designed for a touch experience. Mohu Channels gets around that hurdle using the onscreen cursor, but I've found on similar devices that sometimes the mobile-to-TV transition isn't quite seamless.
Finally, Mohu Channels can also access the Android browser, where you can bookmark Web sites to appear on the channel grid. Both HTML5 and Flash videos are supported and the box has no trouble playing back videos straight from ESPN's home page during the demo. The video automatically went full screen and then returned to the Web site when it was done. While I often find the "Web on my TV" experience to be clunky, it can still be useful in a pinch for content unavailable elsewhere.