Here’s the World’s First Universally Compatible $299 UHD Net-Top Box

-NanoTech Entertainment’s Nuvola Runs KitKat 
-All the Android OTT Apps
-Requires Only 6 Mbps for UHD Streaming
-Has Its Own UHD OTT Service, Too

Except for its price, the Nuvola box has obsoleted every other streaming media box because it offers all the OTT apps available on Android, plus it supports UHD content on a UHD set, and upconverts 1080p content to near UHD.

The UHD season officially kicked off this week with the announcement that NanoTech Entertainment is shipping the $299 Nuvola NP-1, the world’s only widely available UHD net-top box (NTB) that is capable of streaming HEVC compressed UHD videos to any and all UHD TV sets. Here’s the UHD NTB for LG, Vizio, Panasonic, Sharp and the Chinese set makers TCL, Haier and Hisense‏.

We at The Online Reporter prefer the term “net-top box” to streaming media box because it does more than stream media. It can also be used for gaming, playing music that’s stored on PCs and storage devices in the house, looking at photos and browsing the Net.

The other UHD NTBs that have been announced so far, like Sony’s and Samsung’s, stream only to their own TV sets, not to their competitors’ sets. The Nuvola box can’t access the Sony UHD library – not sure about Samsung’s UHD library‏. Instead, its users will have to rely on Netflix, UltraFlix – the company’s sister OTT service, YouTube and any other UHD titles they have purchased. The UHD content options continue to grow.

The box uses a Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, HEVC, and it has HDMI 1.4, which supports UHD content at 30 frames per second. It has both Ethernet and Wi-Fi. The box requires only a 6 Mbps connection to stream UHD – though the company has said the player works best with a 10 Mbps connection.

We first reported on the Nuvola in January of this year (TOR860) after interviewing David Foley, its founder and chief technologist at CES, which is where Ultra HDTV Magazine selected it as “Best Ultra HD Media Player” at CES. Since then, the company encountered some major barriers which it has now overcome, and some late-arriving technologies, which it has now included.

Full specs are here:

We asked NanoTech spokesman Andy Marken for an update on the company and the Nuvola UHD NTB.

The Online Reporter (TOR): How are sales of Nuvola doing? How are they being sold? Online only? Any retailers? Any store fronts?

Marken: When we upgraded the OS to KitKat (at Google’s recommendation) it was just at the end of the beta tests. Those tests also necessitated some minor UI modifications which were done. With that said, about two months ago we held up initial customer shipments until upgrades/changes could be made. Then we had to go back to Google with a number of the units for them to test/certify. That was just completed and all of the hardware units are now being loaded with KitKat and the UI.

We have pre-orders for about 5,000 units and those orders will be filled first (initial production run is 10,000 units and will be received in early July). These were sold online from the NTEK ecommerce site. Ingram Micro (our channel partner) has preorders through their channels for the other 5,000 units and those will be delivered in about the same time period. Ingram will sell through their partners initially, online outlets and then they will be in retail including Best Buy, Q3/Q4 probably Target and others. We would expect good retail availability by Black Friday.

We reported on it in January but have heard nothing more since then.

Marken: We had every intention/hope of having units in the channels and in customer hands by March/April and they would have been had it not been for the KitKat changes/certification and UI updates. We did not want to miss our initial delivery dates but we also didn’t want a poor customer experience at the outset and then make rolling improvements. The decision was made not to have paying customers be the beta testers!

We assume a UHD TV is needed to watch native UHD videos?

Marken: This is true. Using the Nuvola unit with a 1080p HD set and streaming UHD content will make the content look “better” but not as outstanding as with a UHD set. We have been very encouraged by how rapidly prices for UHD sets have deteriorated. From everything we see and discussions with the major set manufacturers we expect to see large screen UHD sets in retail right at the $1,000 price point. Every manufacturer and retailer is expecting to have a major UHD TV set push prior to, during and following Black Friday here in the US UHD set sales outside of the US have been extremely brisk and we would expect 20 to 30 million units to be sold by the end of the year (depending on whose numbers you read).

What over-the-top sources are there for UHD?

Marken: Our sister company – 4K Studios – has repurposed more than 1,000 hours of HD content to very pleasing UHD. These include movies, travelogues, limited early TV series, indie and art films. Currently the company has the largest library of UHD content and we expect to keep that momentum going with relationships that are being constantly negotiated and signed. The studios (in Los Angeles and San Francisco) are literally running 24×7 to help studios repurpose libraries of content to monetize them. All of these will be available through the UltraFlix channel coming with the Nuvola – some of the content is free, some fremium, some premium. In addition there are a couple of series from Netflix and YouTube, which will be available through UltraFlix as well.

Is UltraFlix competing with Netflix and the other OTT services for streaming rights to UHD titles? I remember at CES hearing that UltraFlix had a number of exclusive streaming rights to some very popular movies.

Marken: Actually we have a good relationship with Netflix and the other services. We are building out UltraFlix as a definitive UHD channel for viewers. If you want to watch the best in UHD content you go to the UltraFlix channel and choose from the various UHD options – Netflix, clothing design, home design, travelogues, TV series, movies, etc. Then you can choose in the various venues. If you click on Netflix you have everything they offer in UHD. We are working to enhance UltraFlix just as Netflix and Amazon have enhanced their engines so it learns from your search and viewing habits and brings up the most logical options first or makes intelligent suggestions based on your past history. In a different light if you have been playing MMO [massively multiplayer online] games– free, freemium, premium – in the Google catalog it will offer up similar single, group, MMO game suggestions. Yes we do see the Nuvola box being very widely purchased first as a UHD streaming entertainment/information solution but also see it becoming a sweet game playing unit and if Nielsen and other research bears out more games will be played than video entertainment. The differentiator here is that the Nuvola box as designed first to be an outstanding streaming media player. Open source gaming is almost a free add-on whereas other boxes are for games first (and limited to their platform) and then streaming video was added. We took on the tougher task and are delivering. The others took on the easy requirement and then slapped video on top to let closet gamers say they were buying the unit for their kids or that they were buying it for the OTT content they could view. UltraFlix is 100% focused on being the number one in UHD content delivery which is why we have been so aggressive in accumulating the largest single source library for all types of UHD video content.

Does it have any other apps that support UHD?

Marken: YouTube, Amazon and keep in mind that it supports Android so any content available across the Net will be supported and available – again free, freemium or premium.

Does it upconvert 1080p to near UHD?

Marken: The Nvidia chip aids in doing this as well as our software and it’s pretty good, not great but pretty good. We do upconvert regular HD film streams and the images look better than HD but not as good as true UHD. You will definitely see a difference and to everyone but an “expert” it is significantly better. People with a highly trained eye can see the difference but they say “it’s very good but I can see the difference.” For the other 95% of the viewing community it looks significantly better… I prefer to say a whole lot better and acknowledge the quality could always be improved. It’s what drives the creative industry engine.

What about the TV’s own upconverter? How does the TV upconverter interact with the Nuvola box?

Marken: Now you’re speaking of the smart TV that will do some upconverting really being forced to do it for HD content being shown on a UHD set. I was talking with members at SMPTE [Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers] at a conference at Stanford recently and they said the upconverting is really part of the first generation UHD sets and they have to do an awful lot of work to produce an acceptable image. They dislike this approach (putting all of the workload at the outer edge of the stream) and are glad to see that the 2nd generation UHD sets are more intelligent and will handle the conversion more easily and more intelligently. Now to your specific (second) question: How do the two interact? Actually very well. There is intelligence on both sides of the handshake and if you are streaming UHD content thru the Nuvola box the set knows it doesn’t have to do much work and does what TV sets do. If HD content is being streamed through the box it is upconverted as much as possible and the smart TV enhances it more. Therefore a 2nd generation set and Nuvola would in combination deliver much better viewing enjoyment of HD content.

Will Nanotech release a new box that supports HDMI 2.0? Are you predicting 30 frames per second (fps) will be sufficient for the next few years?

Marken: In the second generation unit we will support HDMI 2.0. That probably will be introduced early/mid next year. All of the technologies (and our specs) are moving targets. We had to freeze the design and get units to people that really work and we’re doing that. Leave it to engineers and products would never be introduced because they’d keep “making it better.” Most of the movies today are 24 fps and 60 is a “gee this would be so much better” but reality is quite different. 30 fps is accepted as standard by SMPTE and others for the here and now. How quickly the mainstream industry moves to 60 fps is as we said probably going to take a few years. If I were to gaze into a crystal ball I would probably say 3-5 years based on the people we talk with in Hollywood and the indies.

About the Author

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