Hillcrest Upgrades TV Browser To Fake Out Hulu

Hillcrest Labs is trying to outfox Hulu with a new version of its browser for big-screen HDTVs designed to circumvent the Internet TV site's measures that have prevented the software from playing videos.

Hillcrest's upgraded Kylo browser, which is based on Mozilla's Firefox open-source code, includes a "compatibility mode" setting that makes the software appear to Hulu as if it were a regular PC-based Firefox 3.6 browser.

Hulu, a joint venture of News Corp., NBC Universal and The Walt Disney Co., blocked the initial Kylo release just hours after its official debut in March. Hillcrest hopes the free Kylo browser leads to more sales of its Loop motion-sensitive pointer.

In a statement, Hillcrest Labs founder and CEO Dan Simpkins said, "We fully respect the rights of content owners and aggregators, and as such, we do not deep link, re-index, divert users past ads, or overlay different user interfaces on video players. However, we believe consumers should be able to use the Kylo browser to visit any site on the Web on the display screen of their choice."

Simpkins said his company hopes that "a respectful dialog with Hulu will encourage them to consider changing their policies."

Hulu had not previously responded to inquiries about why it blocked Hillcrest's browser.

In a similar situation, Hulu has prevented the Internet TV software from startup Boxee from accessing video content, arguing that Boxee violated the Hulu terms of service or had been taking content "illegally."

Hulu's content partners don't want the site's content to be available on TVs, on the theory that access to its free on-demand TV episodes would discourage cable and satellite subscriptions. But the company may be fighting a losing battle in trying to prevent content it distributes freely on the Web from finding its way to TV sets.

Google TV, a project the search giant unveiled last week, is designed to let users search across any Web site for content including YouTube and Hulu.

According to Simpkins, Hillcrest Labs could potentially work with Google TV. "[W]e welcome the addition of Google TV and its forthcoming advancements," he said in a statement. "We believe that Hillcrest Labs is exceptionally well positioned to serve this emerging market through our TV software applications, our own branded products (like Kylo or the Loop pointer), and other remotes or peripherals that license our Freespace in-air pointing technology."

The latest version of the Kylo browser, beta 0.7, is free to download at www.kylo.tv. Hillcrest declined to disclose how many times Kylo has been downloaded.

Other features of Kylo 0.7 include: the ability to launch the browser from a plugin created for Windows Media Center; an autohide option for the control bar and keyboard; enhanced zooming; print from their TV; and an updated directory of links.

As part of promoting the upgrade, Hillcrest Labs announced that the Loop pointer is available at half price -- $49 -- through June 11. The product is available from Hillcrest's site and Amazon.com.

Hillcrest Labs, based in Rockville, Md., was founded in 2001. The company is funded by NEA, AllianceBernstein, Columbia Capital, and Grotech Ventures. Companies that have licensed Hillcrest Labs' technology for use in their products include Kodak, Logitech, remote-control manufacturer Universal Electronics (UEI) and ZillionTV.