How many remotes do you have? I’m willing to bet “more than one” is something of an understatement. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a basket of them. TVs, bluray/dvd players, Rokus, satellite and cable boxes, sound systems, and the odd NUC all add one more remote to your setup.
Sure you can go with a universal remote, but even those can be cumbersome and intimidating for the non-techie crowd.
One company I spent some time talking to at CES thinks they have a better solution: the Caavo Control Center isn’t a typical universal remote. It takes a different approach to becoming the “one remote to rule them all”.
With Caavo, you plug your HDMI devices into it instead of your TV, and Caavo’s slick interface takes over control for all of them. It’s a nice approach, and I wanted to see just how effective it was at thinning out my basket of remotes.
Caavo was kind enough to send me a unit to evaluate and write about.
Side note: it’s occurred to me recently I need to do a better job of letting you know how I acquire the things I review. Sometimes they’re sent to me free of charge, other times I buy them myself. In some cases I’m only “borrowing” them, and have to send them back when I’m done. Whatever the source, I’ll do my best to mention it in my reviews moving forward. In this case, I received the unit free of charge, with the understanding that my review would be a totally honest “warts & all” evaluation.
So what exactly is Caavo’s Control Center? I suppose the best description is that it’s a control HUB for all of your devices (up to four of them). It pulls all of them together (even voice assistants like Alexa) and simplifies using them. Gone is the concept of knowing which input each device is connected to, as well as double-fisting the remotes. Beyond the remote issue, it offers a simplified way of finding out where you can watch something. There’s more to Caavo (much more), but that’s the basics of it.
What’s in the Box?
In the box you get the Caavo device, the remote, a power adapter, and an IR blaster. The IR blaster may or may not be needed, depending on your setup.
The Caavo box and remote both come covered in protective plastic, and that’s a good thing. They have a glossy plastic finish that I expect will be easily scratched.
First Test Environment
I decided to start testing with my living room environment. I have my TCL Roku TV (still loving it), a Sony bluray player, a NUC, and a TaoTronics sound bar. I do also have an ancient DVD/VCR unit, but it’s really just taking up space, so the less said about that the better.
To get started, I connected the Caavo to my TV with the HDMI cable they provided. I don’t believe an HDMI cable comes with the unit when purchased, but it’s an add-on on their site. I attached the power adapter and powered the unit on.
Here is one area where the Caavo really shines: setup. The Caavo starts by doing most of the work for you, and letting you know what it’s doing and why. When you do need to do something, it walks you through it with clear, easy to understand instructions. It had me disconnect my bluray player and NUC from the TV and connect them to two of the Caavo’s HDMI ports. It then walked me through identifying the bluray player and set it up as well. It identified the NUC but had to ask for additional information to be able to control it. It recognized my TV correctly, too.
When it came to the sound bar, which I have connected via optical cable, it walked me through a series of questions to set it up. Since my sound bar doesn’t use HDMI, the Caavo had to learn how to control it. The whole process was simple, easy to follow, and fast.
Next the Caavo had me sign into my previously created Caavo account. This is necessary for some of the Caavo’s more advanced features to work, and it’s a bit disappointing, honestly, because there’s a monthly fee for the account. I can understand the need for an account, and it’s not expensive ($2 a month, I believe), but it’s still something I’d have hoped would have come with it at no charge.
Once setup was complete I started looking around the interface. Like everything else, it’s simple, elegant, and easy to use. I was able to switch from my bluray player to my NUC effortlessly, and the remote worked perfectly on both. Sound control was there too. Everything was working as expected. Except…
It was here I realized the Caavo didn’t list anything about my Roku TV. It listed the TV as a device, of course, but it didn’t have a way for me to actually use the Roku. I’d have to switch inputs and not use the Caavo at all to watch the Roku portion of my TV.
Also, I watch over-the-air TV (cord-cutters unite!). I use my NUC to record shows. Here again, the Caavo had no way of integrating that into its interface. Another disappointment. The whole idea of Caavo was to use a single remote. But that wouldn’t be possible for me.
Let’s Try This Again
Not one to give up easily, I decided to test Caavo in a different environment. So, I moved the box to one of my back bedrooms where I had an older Vizio TV with a Roku Stick and NUC connected to it.
Rather than go through the setup wizard again, I just went to the devices list, and reset them. Once again, Caavo immediately recognized the TV, Roku Stick, and NUC. I was impressed that Caavo was able to control the Roku Stick, since it uses an IP remote rather than infrared. But it did just fine. I was back to one remote for the Roku Stick, the NUC, and the TV. Except…
Still no way to watch over-the-air TV. Rats. I was so close this time! While this wasn’t a complete success, I was beginning to get just what the Caavo was meant to do: turn a “dumb” TV into a smart TV.
Third Time’s a Charm!
So, that setup was close, but still no cigar (I don’t care for cigars anyway). I decided to try one more environment. This environment consisted of a non-smart Westinghouse TV, an Amazon Fire Stick (set up with Alexa), a DirecTV box, a PS/4, a NUC, and another optically connected sound bar. In this environment, no over-the-air TV watching, as DirecTV already had local channels.
And here is where Caavo found its groove. Once again it easily recognized all the components. They all showed up in the Caavo interface, and the remote worked for all of them. Except…
The sound bar. Caavo walked me through the learning process for the sound bar remote again, and it seemed to recognize the signals. But when it was done, it didn’t control the sound bar. So I walked through the setup again, same result. I tried the IR blaster with no luck. After some online research, I was stumped. Then a friend (who is apparently smarter than me) suggested we try lying to Caavo and telling it the soundbar was a Sony. Wouldn’t you know it, that worked!
From this point on, Caavo was a dream. It lived up to the claims, and then some. A single remote for everything. All the components worked, and switching was simple..
The voice search on the control center is interesting. You hold down the microphone button on the remote and say what you want to watch. Caavo then goes to work searching for what you asked for, then gives you a list of viewing options. The feature works pretty well.
If something was available on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and/or Hulu it would list all of them. When I selected one, it would go to that app on the correct device and start playing. It’s a very easy and useful feature, but it does have limitations. For example, it didn’t recognize the movies I had on my NUC. I wasn’t too surprised at that, given they can’t plan for every home theater PC configuration out there. So I can’t fault it too much for that, especially when it does recognize so many devices. Caavo does list Plex as a supported app, but in my case I don’t use Plex. My home theater PCs use Kodi.
Of course voice searching isn’t something new. My Roku TV has it, Alexa has it, even cable providers are offering it now. But I do like its implementation here. It did take it a few seconds to pull together my viewing options as well. Nothing too terrible, but a little slower than me searching on my Roku TV. Something to be aware of if you’re not the patient type.
And as I said, I’m not crazy about the monthly fee to be able to use this feature.
The remote strikes a nice balance of form and function. It’s simple enough for the non-techie, but still has all the functions you need.
It has a nice feel to it, too. Not flimsy or cheap feeling at all. Like the unit itself it’s surprisingly well-made.
A nice touch is that for the control buttons (rewind, play, fast-forward, etc.) if you place your finger on the button a pop up on the screen shows you which button you’re touching. This is especially useful in a dark room, given the remote isn’t back lit.
The Caavo interface is equal parts simple and usable. I let several friends try it, and all found it easy to navigate and switch between devices. It does a great job of pulling all the devices together in one simple place. One friend commented that she hated on her setup that she had to know which “HDML” (not a typo) all the devices were connected to. Caavo does away with this entirely. Want to connect to your Fire Stick? Then just select the Fire Stick. Simple. Clicking on watch gives you suggestions and lists for shows and movies, too.
Caavo support seems to be pretty up to snuff. They have plenty of info in their support section, including simple, easy to follow walk-throughs and videos. When I had the issue with the sound bar I emailed tech support. They responded to me the same day with advice and recommendations. And when I let them know about the Sony codes working, they mentioned they would add that to their information in case anyone else had a similar issue. Support-wise they seem very eager to please.
So what did I learn from all this? The Caavo Control Center is a somewhat incomplete solution for many. While it works well with a wide variety of streaming devices, it’s missing support for smart TVs. But if you have a non-smart TV and aren’t interested in over-the air channels, there’s a good chance Caavo will deliver on its promise of simplifying your entertainment setup. If, on the other hand, you do have a smart TV or want to watch TV via an antenna, you may be frustrated in your efforts to whittle down to a single remote.
I reached out to Caavo about both of these shortfalls, and they did tell me their engineers are hard at work on adding support for smart TVs and over-the-air TV viewing. They didn’t have a release date, but assured me they’re working on it. If they can integrate those into the Caavo interface they’re going to have huge success with this device. It’s well made, easy to setup and use, and has a simple yet functional…some would even say elegant…interface. It’s easy to see a good deal of time and effort has been spent on engineering this solution.
I’m told the original Caavo Control Center allowed for up to eight devices to be connected, and also cost a hefty $400. This unit is simplified and streamlined, and goes for about $100 when it’s not on sale. It supports just four HDMI connections, but in every environment I tested I never got past four, so it seems to be just the right size.
Is Caavo the solution for everyone? Not yet. Depending on your home theater setup, it could be just what you’ve been looking for. If not, it’s worth keeping an eye on to see if they can add the missing pieces.
To end, I’ll give you a direct quote from a certain person, who hates “HDMLs” and multiple remotes:
“Please let [them] know this remote is the best thing that’s happened to me! This is the first time that I’m all by myself and I turned on the tv and watching a movie, no joke, I’ve never been able to do that without calling someone for help! 😁 “
And the response about whether I could include her comment in this post:
“I do not care if you mention me by name and post my social security number and address, I love this thing!”