Review: Caavo Control Center

Today on the hookup I’m going to show you the Caavo control center a product touted as being the ultimate remote control, and then I’m going to tell you why it isn’t right now, and it might not ever be.

On my CES live stream a viewer in chat suggested that DrZzs and I  go visit the booth for the Caavo control center, a product that had previously never heard of.  The only information given was that it was like a harmony remote, but with a lot more functionality.  And having just dealt with my Harmony hub’s local control being unexpectedly eliminated I was a little angry with Logitech and definitely open to a new solution.

When we visited the booth my eyes lit up and the gears in my head started turning as a learned about the Caavo.  It’s an extremely dense black box that contains a 4 device HDMI switch with machine vision that allows it to read and index content on your DVR, search all of your streaming devices and services at once, and seamlessly integrate all of your media.  The Caavo is also a powerful universal remote control that uses infrared blasters to control some devices and HDMI CEC to control the rest. The caavo is an incredibly impressive piece of hardware, especially for only 99 dollars. I had a great time talking with the Caavo developers at the booth and left CES extremely excited to get my hands on one.

Fast forward two weeks or so my Caavo arrived.  The Packaging looked great, the build quality appeared to be top notch, and I was ready to transition from my Logitech harmony hub to the Caavo control center.

I spent the a few minutes situating the Caavo in its new home and doing cable management before booting it up.  The setup process was straightforward but also pretty long.  At a few different points it warned me that it was going to turn a device off, but it might not be able to turn it back on, and it was correct two out of three times.  I made it through the setup process without too much issue, but while it was more user friendly than setting up my harmony remote, it certainly wasn’t simple or plug and play.

After finishing the setup process it sent me to my computer to sign up for a caavo account.  Easy enough, just register online then enter the code on the screen to link the device.  Then it sent me to the plex website to link plex to caavo and again it integrated pretty seamlessly.  Finally I needed to go to my amazon echo app on my phone to download the Caavo skill and link my account.  None of these steps were difficult, but at this point it had been nearly 45 minutes since I took the caavo out of the box, and I was starting to get antsy, so I was relieved when I reached a screen telling me the setup was done.

The welcome screen suggested that I use the caavo remote to search for some media, so I decided to be nice and give it something easy.  My daughter had just been watching Descendents 2 on our plex server, so I said “search for descendants 2” and 4 seconds later it came up with some options for me to watch the movie, which as I mentioned is a movie that we own and have on our local plex server, but inexplicably the “top results” tab was for me to rent it from amazon prime for $3.99.  Now, I could easily understand that I should try to look elsewhere for the correct option, but my 6 year old probably would have just clicked okay resulting in either an unhappy dad when I was charged $4 to watch a movie that we own, or an unhappy kid when it denied the purchase due to parental controls.  So where was the correct result?  I needed to scroll to the very bottom of the list to get to “plex results”, which is a totally failure in my opinion.  If it seems like I’m being too hard on the Caavo, please consider that its main selling point over something like the harmony hub was supposed to be simplification of media consumption, and this seemed like the opposite of that.

Alright, so maybe I was expecting too much.  Next I would test how the caavo compared to my 3 year old harmony hub as a universal out as a remote control.  Manual switching of devices worked just as expected, albeit a bit slower than I was used to since the Caavo was handling the HDMI switching now instead of my Harmon Kardon Audio Video Receiver.  Next up was voice control, how about opening up plex? Duplex huh? It was late, I was trying not to be too loud and wake up my wife,  maybe I just needed to enunciate?  Hey cool, it worked.

How about Netflix?

A websearch for Netflix? That doesn’t seem right.

I wonder if telling it to turn on the roku will take it back to the main screen?

Websearch again? Ok then.

Well fine, maybe I’ll just listen to some music.  Honestly, our entertainment system is primarily used to listen to music on our echo dot anyways, and we only watch TV an hour or two a day.  To do this I just needed to figure out how to switch my AV receiver to Aux with this fancy new remote, surely somewhere in the menus there’s an option to add extra devices to the remote.

No? Huh.

Maybe there’s an advanced option to learn a new IR command?

Nope. Okay then.

At this point, lets revisit my initial impression of the Caavo:  A long and involved setup process that involved me using the TV, my computer and my phone, a suggestion to pay to rent a movie that I own on my plex server, websearches instead of device changes, and the inability to change my AV receiver to aux to listen to music.  Leaving this thing attached to the TV would have caused a riot in my house the in the morning, so I disconnected the Caavo and put it back in its box.

The next day I sent an email to the marketing rep at Caavo that I had been in contact with outlining my initial experiences.  She set me up with an appointment to speak with a member of the development team to talk about the issues I was having, and what transpired was a pretty interesting conversation that really pinpoints the caavo team’s vision for this device, and why it will probably never be the right device for me.

First, above all else the Caavo team is trying to produce a product that is simple to use and doesn’t need troubleshooting.

The reason there isn’t an option to add extra devices to the AV receiver is that there is too much variation in the way AV devices are controlled and they don’t want to create a situation where the Caavo can’t correctly switch to the input you select.  While I understand the desire to make the product work flawlessly when it’s in a household where there’s no one to troubleshoot, it seems extremely shortsighted to leave out an advanced menu with some kind of a warning that would allow you to utilize the tremendous amount of potential of this device.  For me, I don’t mind troubleshooting a strange edge case every few months if it means the device works they way I need it to the rest of the time.

I also think they are kidding themselves a bit with their market base.  I was able to navigate my way through the setup process relatively easily, but I can tell you right now that my parents would have packed the thing up and sent it back long before finishing the setup process.  Right now you might be thinking to yourself “well sure, but I can just set it up for my parents and then they can enjoy it”, and I totally agree with you, but that is not the vision that the caavo team has for this product, they want it to be simple enough that even the most technophobic people could get it working.

The second point I addressed was the search function that failed to suggest my plex server as a top result.

And again, the answer was understandable, but disappointing.  Basically the caavo handles its plex searching and results locally, but it does the rest of it’s cross platform searches on the caavo cloud.  The reason they don’t want to integrate plex results in with the “top results” is that they are worried that it will slow down the overall speed of the voice search and therefore lessen the quality of the user experience.  For me, I can’t ever think of a time when I would rather have the wrong result 1 second faster than the right result, and I can’t see this becoming an issue for their target buyer because they probably aren’t going to be integrating plex servers anyways.  There is an option buried in the menus to always prioritize plex results, but all that does is give you the plex results screen first instead of the “top results”, so if your plex server doesn’t have the requested media, you’ll have to scroll down to the “top results” window to see the rest of the results.

The third issue that I brought up was incorrectly searching the web for results instead of just opening the Netflix app or tuning to roku.  After talking through it for a bit without resolution we determined that it must have been a bug in the software.  The caavo is being actively developed and should be getting better all the time.  Unfortunately this also comes with a monthly subscription fee of $1.99 a month or a $49.99 lifetime subscription.  Personally I would much rather Caavo just charge $150 for the product from the start and scrap the subscription completely, but I’m not a professional marketer, so maybe I’m off base.

What I do know is that in its current state I can’t recommend the Caavo to anyone.  Once the bugs are worked out and some critical updates are made I think it will be a interesting product for the less tech saavy members of the baby boomer generation, given that they have someone to come help them with the initial setup.

However, given the closed off nature of the firmware, lack of local support, and complete dependence on the caavo cloud for advanced functionality I don’t think it will ever be an option in my house.

It’s worth noting that there are actually a couple more issues with the caavo that I haven’t even addressed because they are not that big of a deal for me.  First, the Caavo can’t currently control smart TV apps.  Since its machine vision engine requires the image to pass through the caavo via HDMI that means that if you’re watching an app on your smart TV the Caavo has no idea what’s on the screen since the video never passes through it.  Again, this isn’t an issue for me since my main TV is an LG google TV that google killed off in 2015… in fact, my advice for anyone in the market for a new TV these days is to get one with as few smart features as possible and then buy yourself a roku, firestick, appletv or chromecast to handle your smart stuff, that way if you want to upgrade your smart features you don’t need to throw away the wholeTV.

The last issue is that since the Caavo does processing on all of the HDMI signals coming in it actually adds 30 milliseconds of video lag onto the input.  That means that if you plug your xbox, playstation or switch into your Caavo and then into your LG OLED TV you’ll experience 31 milliseconds of total video lag, 30 from the Caavo and 1 from the TV.  I don’t play video games even remotely competitively anymore, so this isn’t really an issue for me, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

I don’t like doing negative reviews, but I am committed to giving my honest feedback about the products I feature on my channel and this one is a no for me.

One reason I can be unbiased is that I do not accept any form of payment for product reviews, and a major reason I can do that and still sustain this channel is because of my wonderful patrons over at patreon.  If you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description.  If you have questions about the caavo or you want me to test something out please let me know down in the comments.  If you enjoyed this video, please consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.

My pick for the best universal remote (Only $51!): https://amzn.to/2ThUXiX
Want to buy the Caavo anyway? https://amzn.to/2XGaHe1
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