NY Times Rips Vulkano A New Caldera

The New York Times took a look at the multifunction Vulkano digital media device … and the results are not pretty. Some of the review lowlights: “it’s a train wreck” “head-banging limitations” “so many problems” “recruited as a paying beta tester” Basically, “the Vulkano box is nowhere near ready for prime time” Devastating!

Of course, I’m not entirely surprised having had a unit in my possession a few weeks. I’ve held off formally evaluating the loaner Vulkano while awaiting some significant software improvements. One update was pushed out last week and I’m told “radically” improved firmware should be available soon. As it currently stands, when I last looked, folks merely looking to placeshift their home TV programming to various desktop and mobile platforms probably won’t be disappointed. But those interested in the Vulkano’s additional features (recording, apps, etc) will want to wait on making a purchase until Monsoon improves the situation.

On a meta level, it’s somewhat unusual to see a mainstream print publication rip a startup in this way. Most wouldn’t bother wasting the print on a niche product or company, unless it’s something remarkable and worthy of consideration. (Whereas, we’ve got unlimited bytes and available pages in the blogosphere.) But, as David Pogue says, “the company asked me to review it. You would think that such a request implied a certain confidence in the product’s readiness for consumers.” Unfortunately, you only get to launch a product once. And I highly doubt Vulkano will ever be mentioned in the NY Times again, even if they resolve each and every issue.

A Monsoon rep has responded to Pogue’s critique on the Placeshifting Enthusiasts forum. Here’s an excerpt:

What the article does not mention is that ours is the only product in the market that can stream, schedule and record any TV channel from home to the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, android and soon blackberry-anywhere in the world. We are the only company with a platform for unique services and applications; the only company that in the future will do Google TV and Yahoo Widgets thru one integrated box; the only company with excellent video streaming/recording quality across multiple clients. No one in the world can do what we do today. We have had the courage and vision to develop revolutionary technologies and products.

12 thoughts on “NY Times Rips Vulkano A New Caldera”

  1. I’d guess Vulkano is pursuing the “there is no such thing as bad publicity” course here.

    Lots of folks have at least heard of the company now.


    Pogue wrote the review from the POV of Richard Dawkins. (Wait for it…)


    It’s pretty amazing that nobody can take on TiVo. I mean, the TiVo isn’t anything particularly great. But time after time, the teams assemble, set out to build a better TiVo, and end up with something that doesn’t even work.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: TiVo makes the worst DVR’s in the world with the exception of all the other DVR’s.

  2. The Times itself will probably never print another word about the Vulkano, but if things improve significantly, Pogue probably will follow up with it online, which is better than nothing. He tends to strike a good balance between writing for technophiles and hardcore gadget nerds, which is pretty difficult to do. In this case, it looks like a lot of his gripes were UI and usability issues, which should have been ironed out better before approaching NYT/Pogue to write about it. Monsoon’s response is geared toward the hardcore gadget crowd (not surprising since it comes from a place called the Placeshifting Enthusiasts forum) and is more about what it will do in the future and how it looks on paper than the actual experience of using it.

  3. Nicely summarized, Vince.

    Chucky, as you and I know, TiVo’s primary challenge is marketing and sales, not the tech itself. Having said that, I clearly expect more from the pioneers of DVR. I also expect them to move at a faster clip. Although, the Vulkano is a lesson in waiting it out. (Based on the hardware manufacturing dates, the Premiere could have been shipping in December ’09 yet we didn’t see it until March or April of this year. So we can assume they chose to miss the critical holiday season to ensure a better product/launch. The new UI is still incomplete and too slow, but at least the old one that it falls back on is tried and true.)

  4. “(Pogue) tends to strike a good balance between writing for technophiles and hardcore gadget nerds, which is pretty difficult to do.”

    Yup. Pogue is quite good at his job.

    And, of course, in pretty much every field you can think of, the NYTimes has someone who is quite good at their job.

    It’s amazing to me just how good the NYTimes has gotten in the internet age. They’re really stacked with talent. I don’t know if they can ever make money, but they’ve put together a pretty amazing product for the moment.

  5. “Based on the hardware manufacturer dates, the Premiere could have been shipping in December ’09 yet we didn’t see it until March or April.”

    I assume they wanted to wait until the software at least hit beta before they shipped.

    Even TiVo can’t seem to build a better TiVo. It’s sorta spooky that no one can manage to do it. It really shouldn’t be that hard. I know that CableCARD is dead, so no one wants to really bother, but people do keep trying…

  6. From the picture above

    “Confirm Formatting”
    “Please enter the code 1730 to confirm so as not format something accidently.”

    So as not format something accidently? They can’t write or spell. No wonder the thing doesn’t work as expected.

  7. Monsoon should not have released the device yet unless to those willing to beta test it. Why promote features you dont have yet.

    Monsoon should have said this is what the Vulkano can do now, and this is what we plan will offer in the future. For remote streaming, and recording live streams to your PC MAc IPad then the Vulkano has really good picture quality. On Iphone it’s simply awesome picture quality.

    You can go to any forum and see complaints. Why do you think sling media shut down the sling community. So many people with issues and sling media didn’t want people to read about that.

    placeshifting community started up after sling media shut down the sling community site.

  8. I know nothing about the company that built the Vulkano, but that Confirm Formatting screenshot screams “outsourced”. The broken English is distinctly Indian and the user interface design is what the Indian “freshers” will typically produce. If you really need a confirmation dialog, why does the user need to type in a numeric code? How about a buttons for “ok” and “cancel”?

    If the software cannot get a confirmation dialog box right, the rest of the UI must be littered with disasters. This usually is an indication that the underlying code and architecture is pretty screwed up. If I had to guess, the Vulkano is *years* away from being a usable product.


  9. Yup, sounds pretty awful. Won’t be going anywhere near it. And I likely won’t follow up when they update their software either. I’ve ignored them till now and tolerably happy with my Sling.

    I’d be hesitant to defend the current Tivo here though. The Premier wasn’t any better when it shipped and sounds like it still hasn’t improved much. Won’t be going anywhere near it either, despite being a long-standing Tivo user.

  10. Dan, you’re almost right. It’s not outsourced to India – Monsoon is an Indian company. (They have a sales office in San Mateo, but their engineering team is in New Delhi.)

  11. All the negative comments …

    We’ve used Slingboxes in a commercial security environment for a long time …

    And now Monsoon Vulkano. Vulkano is so much better than Sling and their attitude is FAR better.

    I find it amusing that based on one screens typos, you jump to conclusions about other screens, and underlying code.

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