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Vulkano Flow

Vulkano Flow, the first of two new Monsoon Multimedia placeshifters announced at CES, is now available for purchase from the likes of Amazon and Fry’s Electronics for a mere $99. Making it the least expensive Slingbox-esque product on the market.

Unlike Moonsoon’s 2010 Vulkano product that tried to do it all, with less than stellar results, the Vulkano Flow attempts to do one thing well — stream television content around and beyond your home. I’ve been evaluating the Flow for several weeks and it largely succeeds. In fact, you’ve already seen it in action (here and here).

As with all personal, hardware-based placeshifting solutions the Vulkano Flow hangs off your set-top box or between a STB and television. In my case, the Flow has primarily been used to beam FiOS TV DVR video to Mac, PC, iPhone, and Android software clients. While Sling still stubbornly refuses to integrate wireless capabilities, the Vulkano Flow can optionally connect to your home network via 802.11n – which is the config I’ve been using. And the streaming experience over WiFi, both within and beyond the home, has been very good. 3G, not so much.

Vulkano Flow

The hardware is contained within the same or a very similar enclosure as the original Vulkano (“Platinum”) which will presumably also be reused for the upcoming Blast… given the taped over SD slot and functionless IR receiver. But for 99 bucks, I can’t complain. In terms of size, the Vulkano is wider than all Slingboxes, but with a much lower profile – it sits well in the cabinet on a DVR. Streaming resolution is equivalent to the Slingbox Solo, maxing out at 720×480. So while the Flow can take in your HD content, the encoded retransmission is limited to standard def. However when on the road, especially via mobiles, this shouldn’t be a practical problem. Continue Reading…

Until recently, the stereo in my car was so old it still had a tape deck in it, but I’ve finally upgraded the audio system with a new HD radio, the Sony CDX-GT700HD Xplod. And after about a week, my initial evaluation is a big thumbs up. I love the new spectrum of stations available. It’s not Internet radio, but it is a whole lot more content than I was getting before. For example, as an NPR fanatic, I’ve long rued the Saturday morning drives with only cooking and gardening shows available on my public radio station. Now I can switch to HD2 and catch up on Studio 360 for pop culture and arts news.

For actual Internet content, I can also connect my phone or Slacker music player through the Sony radio’s line-in jack, or USB port. This is the biggest reason I jumped on an upgrade. I’m tired of having the car be the only place I can’t access the music and podcasts I want. And since I won’t be getting a new, tricked-out vehicle any time soon, an after-market solution was definitely the way to go.

Other benefits of the new system include scrolling metadata, a huge number of channel pre-sets, and the ability to tag songs for later look-up on iTunes. (Tagging only works if you have an iPod.) I also love the hidden CD dock, which opens like a secret compartment, but is still dead simple to access. I’m not a sound geek, but Amazon reviewers also praise the radio’s sound quality and flexible EQ system. Continue Reading…

Over the last year or so, we’ve come a long way from those initial, unsightly and simplistic iPhone IR remote control dongles. And Peel ($100) represents the next generation of virtual remote. In fact, it’s potentially a contender to replace your Harmony.

The Peel solution consists of an attractive iPhone app, a small orb-like thingy (“fruit”) that you’d place on a coffee- or end-table, and a wireless transmitter (“cable”) that connects directly one’s router. The Peel fruit and cable communicate via the ZigBee spec, as opposed to garden-variety 80211 WiFi, so the fruit may get up to 6 months of power from the included C battery. But the networking is transparent as setup is a breeze – connectivity is automatically configured with next to no intervention. Sync and go.

Configuring Peel to control the devices in your AV cabinet is also fairly efficient. It may not offer the same level of complex interactions as found with Harmony, but it also doesn’t require endless tweaking from a computer. Peel’s iPhone app quickly walks you through the process of registering your components. I had a loaner unit controlling my Panasonic plasma and FiOS DVR in just a minute or so from the couch. A minute later, I had my Roku added to the mix with the television inputs correctly mated to their respective set-tops. Continue Reading…

We continue to find ourselves in a transition period where the majority of our set-top boxes and televisions aren’t sufficiently empowered to deliver Internet content. While some of us have resorted to directly connecting a computer to the HDTV, a variety of solutions have sprung up to relay PC-based content onto the television. Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) and Veebeam are examples we’ve covered in recent months. However, as each of these manufacturers uniquely tackle this challenge, McTiVia is a new entrant worth discussing.

Basically, McTiVia ($199) allows you to broadcast your Mac or PC display and audio straight to your television. Unlike Veebeam, which includes a wireless USB dongle you attach to your computer that communicates to a small box co-located at a television, McTiVia is software powered. And 8 computers can be configured to beam their desktops to the TV (in a much more agnostic method than Intel’s CPU-locked down offering).

One of my primary complaints with these sorts of products has been the inability to remote control your computer content on the television. Both Intel and Veebeam expect you to sit on your couch with a laptop… on your laptop. So one of the things that makes McTiVia compelling is its USB port to facilitate the use of a wireless keyboard and mouse. Although, it’s not clear what sort of latency one can expect when using it. Continue Reading…

I’ve been playing with the VuPoint ST100B Digital Video Converter for several days now, and so far I’m pleased with my impulse purchase. Digitizing old analog media is more an art than a science, but one that at least has gotten easier over the years.

Set-up with the VuPoint converter is quick and painless. It comes packaged with cords to plug into your TV and VHS player, and once you insert an SD card, hit power, and switch over to the right TV input, you’re good to go for recording. Your choices at this point are limited, but in this case, that’s a good thing. There are only four buttons on the VuPoint box – Power, Record, Play, and Next. Hit Record once to start recording, and again to stop. To enter playback mode, hit the Play button once, and then press it again to view your latest recording. If you have multiple videos recorded, use  the Next button to cycle through your library.

And that’s it. Continue Reading…

This morning I took (early) delivery of Amazon’s new Kindle 3 – I opted for the WiFi only version – a device that claims 50% better contrast than any other e-reader, a 21% smaller body while keeping the same 6″ size reading area, and a 20% increase in the speed of page turns. These are, of course, all very welcome improvements but specs alone don’t tell the real story of Kindle’s appeal and why it sets the benchmark for an e-reading experience. Instead, it’s Amazon’s decision to adopt a vertical model: controlling the hardware, software and, most controversially, content of the Kindle, that define the user experience. But first, let’s dive into the device itself.

The two most noticeable aspects of the Kindle’s hardware design are its size – it’s a lot smaller (and lighter) than pictures do it justice – and the print-like contrast levels of the latest iteration of E Ink, the technology that powers the device’s screen. In fact, upon unboxing the Kindle 3, a colleague attempted to peel off a second non-existent screen protector that housed instructions on how to charge the device. Only it was actually the screen itself, set to standby. E Ink, though gray scale only, is that good for what it’s designed for: reading the written word.

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Instead of doing a full-on review stepping through each feature or characteristic of the Motorola Droid X, I’d rather focus on the emotional experience. And the Droid X is one of very few phones in recent memory that has sufficiently challenged the iPhone as my primary mobile device.

Unlike most handsets that pass through, I chose to use the Droid X nearly exclusively for the week I had it on loan it from Kevin Tofel (jkOnTheRun) last month. It shattered my notion that anything larger than a 3.5″ or 3.7″ phone is just too big — it’s 4.3″ LCD-toting body fit fine in my pocket, while feeling more comfortable and safer in the hand than the similarly endowed EVO. There’s no question the iPhone 4 has the clearest mobile display, but there’s something to be said for the extra screen real estate found on the Droid X, which I could see replacing my Kindle. The revamped “Motoblur” is mostly an innocuous Android skin job. It adds a few UI enhancements and widgets without bogging down the interface or taxing the Droid X’s speedy processor. As opposed to the more in-your-face Samsung TouchWiz, which seems to generate a distinct love or hate reaction.

Continue Reading…


Samsung’s making a splash with their new, high-end line of Android “Galaxy S” handsets. And while they’ve already launched overseas, the US variants with custom enclosures and functionality, start rolling out today:

As part of the launch festivities, I was provided a stock Galaxy S to evaluate. Media outreach and spec sheet highlights have led with Samsung’s 4″ 800 x 480 Super AMOLED screen. And while I initially found it oversaturated, even garish (combined with Samsung’s Touchwiz skinning), I’ve landed somewhere else entirely. In fact, I’ve concluded that the Galaxy S utilizes the most pleasing mobile display I’ve encountered — striking an excellent balance of resolution, size, and vibrancy. The Galaxy S obviously isn’t as high res as Apple’s iPhone 4 pixel-dense “retina display” … but with uncorrected sub-20/20 vision, it’s not like I’ve been bothered by aliasing at 18″. So, ultimately, I find myself in the same camp as Harry McCracken of Technologizer:

if all other phone features were equal, I’d take more square inches over more pixels

A common Galaxy S knock has been a plasticy appearance and/or feel. And while the enclosure is indeed plastic, it contributes (positively) to a lightweight feeling device, despite sporting that 4″ display. (And how quickly folks have forgotten iPhone 3GS and 3G’s slippery plastic backside?) There’s no debating that the Samsung’s handset doesn’t pack the same level of materials or symmetry found on the iPhone 4 but, in my week of usage, the Galaxy S has been both comfortable and functional.


Regarding the Galaxy S’s photographic capabilities, I can tell you the handset captures 5 megapixel stills and 720p video. I haven’t shot enough sample content to pass judgement, other than saying quality’s in about the same ballpark as most of the competition. Two other camera notes… The Galaxy S doesn’t incorporate a LED, or other, flash. Which isn’t a problem for me, as a flash-free photographer, but it’s something you may want to consider. Also, my particular unit houses a front-facing camera. But, sadly, I’m unaware of any Market apps which support the feature (yet) and believe only the Sprint model in the US will contain similar. Continue Reading…