Peel: A Bridge Between Your iPhone And Home Entertainment System (Video)

It’s a problem as common as it is ugly: between your television, Blu-Ray player, surround sound tuner, cable box, and DVR, you probably have at least three remotes sitting on your coffee table. And then there’s the elaborate list of steps required to get each component working properly (don’t forget to set the tuner to HDMI2 before firing up the Blu-Ray!) The associated headaches have spawned an entire industry of super-remotes like Logitech’s Harmony devices. But what about the mobile powerhouses we’ve already dropped hundreds of dollars on — shouldn’t our smart phones be able to control our home entertainment systems?

That’s the promise of Peel, a Santa Clara-based startup that is looking to help you take control over your entertainment system using your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or (soon) Android device. The company has just launched its first product — the Peel fruit —  that retails online and in the Apple store for $99. Check out the videos below for an interview with the startup’s founders.

The plastic ‘fruit’ essentially acts as a middleman between your phone/tablet and your television components — Peel uses a Wifi connection to relay commands from your phone to the ‘fruit’, which then blasts the appropriate infrared signals to all of your hardware devices. You control everything — be it a channel change, or swapping between different content sources — using a free Peel application for your phone. The application includes a visual guide of the shows that are available (you see thumbnails with each show’s logo), and you can customize the app so that it only recommends shows you’re interested in.

Because of the way Peel works you’ll need to position the fruit device in a place where it can ‘see’ all of your components, which means you’ll have to place it several feet in front of your TV set (and possibly in plain view). It’s not exactly inconspicuous, but it could probably pass as some sort of tribal maraca.

As with similar universal remotes, setup isn’t painless (you can watch a demo of the process in the video below). After firing up the app and connecting the device you’ll be walked through a wizard designed to automatically figure out the remote codes for all of your components. But there’s some trial-and-error involved, and if you have numerous components, the process will likely take at least ten minutes. That said, there really isn’t a whole lot Peel could do to make it easier.

Peel has promise, but the mobile application itself is still pretty early. It currently allows you to browse your shows using a slick, visual interface that lets you flick between show listings on your phone or iPad, but only when you’re watching live cable — it doesn’t have deep integration with your DVR or media streaming devices. It can still control these components, but it switches to a generic browsing mode that relies on gestures: instead of showing thumbnails of available content, you essentially navigate through menus the way you would using the arrow buttons on your remote.

However, Peel has some deals in the works that will improve the situation for some users. It has signed a partnership with TiVo that will allow the app to visually navigate through shows you’ve recorded to your DVR, and it plans to launch Netflix integration in Q3 2011.

The application will also gradually add more social features, like the ability to tell friends what you’re currently watching. Here, it will face plenty of competition: IntoNow, yap.TV, Comcast’s Tunerfish and others are all trying to add a social layer to the TV experience.