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Dish Teams with Startup Ray for $200 Next-Gen TV Remote. Will Anyone Bite?

The pay-TV industry clearly has ongoing challenges in retaining customers. But there’s no way the biz can solve those in a big way with a $200 remote control.

New York-based startup Ray Enterprises on Tuesday unveiled its proprietary touchscreen universal remote control — with a 4.8-inch diagonal screen — which resembles a smartphone. Dish Network has a preliminary pact to work with Ray Enterprises to make the remote compatible with the satcaster’s Hopper DVR at some point in the next few months.

That’s all well and good, but really, who is going to pay 200 bucks for the Ray Super Remote, no matter how gee-whizzy it promises to be?

The device, Ray Enterprises pledges, provides an array of content-discovery tools, including search, recommendations, what’s trending and most popular, and TV programming presented in personalized and “dynamic content” themes.

“The Ray Super Remote grew out of my frustration that despite living in the Golden Age of television, I was struggling to find content across proliferating platforms and using a multitude of archaic TV remote controls to do so,” said CEO David Skokna, who announced the device at the Code/Media Conference on Tuesday. “I set out to create one device to control my entire living room and offer the personalized content search and discovery experience my family was craving.”

Universal remotes have found a niche market among home-theater enthusiasts. But most regular consumers, at this point, have continued to make do with the motley configuration of remotes for TV sets, cable boxes, Rokus, Apple TVs, stereos and other devices.

Ray Enterprises claims its remote control can be set up “in minutes.” Fine, but the remote from a cable or satellite provider works immediately. The Ray remote uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, infrared and ZigBee technologies to connect to and control up to several thousands of devices including HDTVs, DVRs, set-top boxes, streaming-media players, gaming consoles and connected home devices, the company says. But again, it’s worth questioning how many people are craving this particular feature.

The startup landscape is littered with the lifeless bodies of those who thought they could invent a better user interface for TV, including Fanhattan (sold in a fire sale to Rovi) and Qplay, the now-defunct startup from the founders of TiVo. By contrast, Roku’s fairly traditional remote, for example, so far has worked pretty well for its customers.

For Dish’s part, anything that could get consumers to consider the satellite broadcaster’s service is worth dabbling in — even if it doesn’t actually pay off. “We give trusted developers, like Ray, access to Dish APIs so they may create new search, discovery and control experiences for our customers,” Vivek Khemka, Dish senior VP of product management, said in a statement. “The Ray team has integrated our APIs to create a compelling universal remote compatible in the Hopper ecosystem.”

Sounds good. But check it out: Dish has its own new touchpad-enabled remote control coming out this summer. And it’s supposed to add voice recognition for TV commands — something Ray’s remote is, for now, lacking.

The Ray Super Remote is available for pre-order on the startup’s website (www.ray.co) for $199. Backers of Ray Enterprises, founded in 2012, include Hans Deutmeyer, former head of HBO Go.

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