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Fanhattan Debuts Pint-Size Fan TV Set-Top Box to Simplify the Living Room (Video)

Your home theater system can get pretty cluttered even if you have a relatively minimal setup of a cable box, DVR and streaming media device. But what if you could simplify all of that down to one piece of equipment that fits in the palm of your hand? Sounds pretty enticing, no? Well, that’s what Fanhattan has done with its new Fan TV set-top box.

Unveiled today at D11, Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa said Fan TV is the company’s next step for creating a more streamlined entertainment experience for everyone. Previously known for its video discovery service, this is the company’s first foray into the hardware business.

Designed in partnership with Yves Behar, who also worked on the SodaStream seltzer maker, Jawbone products and the just-announced August “smart” door lock, Fan TV consists of a small pod and touch-sensitive remote that can attach magnetically to the former for safekeeping.

BianRosa called the Fan TV an input 1 device, meaning that it plugs into the first input of your TV and acts as your primary set-top box. There’s only an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack (it also has Wi-Fi) and a power connector on back, so setup should be simple. And it provides access to live TV, on-demand content, DVR and streaming services.

The device is powered by components similar to the ones found in a tablet. There is no hard drive; everything is in the cloud, including DVR recordings.

The battery-operated remote is interesting in and of itself. It communicates via Bluetooth, and there are no buttons on it at all. Instead, the surface of the remote acts as a touchpad and has 200 sensors. You just swipe the surface to navigate through the menus and change channels, while a quick tap will select an item. Without any buttons, users won’t be able to manually enter channel numbers and that’s by design. However, there is an onscreen keyboard if you want to search for a TV show or movie.

BianRosa said the company has been working on Fan TV for the past two years, while it has been learning how to work with the industry and users of the iOS apps and the Web.

Calling it the centerpiece of the whole system, it should come as no surprise that Fan TV integrates Fanhattan’s video discovery service — now simply known as Fan.

BianRosa, joined by AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, gave a demo of how it all works. While watching live TV, BianRosa navigated through different channels by swiping on the remote. He also showed how you could search for movies by what’s playing at a certain time or genre.

I also got to check out Fan TV at Fanhattan’s San Mateo, Calif., offices, and I was impressed by the minimalist design of the actual device. The remote was easy to use, but it’s hard to say whether it’s a better solution than traditional remotes with buttons after only getting to play with it for a short amount of time.

With the Fan integration, I liked that I could search for TV shows and movies in a smarter way, and also view trailers, read reviews from Rotten Tomato, listen to a movie soundtrack and more. There was some lag when pulling up some content, but in general, I thought it was very slick. But Fanhattan’s big challenge may not be getting consumers onboard but the cable providers. BianRosa said they are working with paid TV providers to bring Fan TV to market together.

“We’re not ignoring them. We want to work with them, and we want to make their service look great,” said BianRosa. “As an industry, they’ve been underserved by getting set-top boxes manufactured by Cisco and Motorola. Those companies don’t really face consumers. They are clients of those cable companies, so they don’t really care about design and usability.”

Fanhattan isn’t announcing any cable or service streaming partners today, nor are they talking pricing, though it did say that customers will be able to buy Fan TV from the cable company or from Fanhattan directly. When asked which cable provider they were using for the demo, BianRosa avoided the question (read: None).

BianRosa said that they will release more details through the rest of the year, and pointed out when they first released the iPad app at D9, they only launched with four partners but now they have 30 services across the Web and iOS.

“That shows that we know how to partner with those companies, but it takes time to bring those services the right way in a device like this,” he said.

In addition to Fan TV, Fanhattan announced that it’s opening up its Web service to everyone starting today. The interface has also been redesigned with simpler navigation, an expanded activity feed and other improvements. The same features will be pushed out to the iOS app soon.

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