Hands-on review: Smartphone-controled Orb TV

There's another Internet TV solution on the market, but this one is a bit different and much smaller. The Orb TV is controlled by a smartphone app, streaming multimedia from your computer, Netflix, Pandora and other online media sources.

There's another Internet TV solution on the market, but this one is a bit different and much smaller. The Orb TV is controlled by a smartphone app, streaming multimedia from your computer, Netflix, Pandora and other online media sources. Here's the hands-on review.

SET-UP

The Orb TV console itself is tiny, fitting within the grasp of my hand easily being about the size of a hockey puck . While it is quite light, I only wish it were a tad more weightless that way I could attach a bit of velcro to the back and just stick it on the back of my TV.

Within the box you'll find the Orb device, a universal power supply, and the following cables: USB 2.0, stereo audio, component and composite video.

There are four relatively simple steps to setting up your Orb TV system. Compatible with both Mac and PC systems, the user must first download the Orb Caster software to his/her computer from the links included in the manual. Second, connect the Orb to the computer via USB. Third, plug in the Orb device to the TV using the included A/V cables and to the power outlet (with the USB cable connecting the Orb to the power source). Finally, install the Orb Controller app, available in both the iTunes App Store and Android Market for free. (The iPhone app is also compatible with the iPad and the iPod touch.)

Note: Don't confuse this with the Orb TV Live app that costs $9.99. The Orb Controller app is free.

Set aside a good 30 minutes to accomplish all of this, from software installation and connecting to your home wireless network to figuring out which cables you want to use with your TV set depending your current home theater set-up.

USE

The Orb TV allows for streaming of videos, audio files and photos from multiple sources. Let's go over each one.

Video

Users type in the name of the show or search by genre. The Orb Controller app finds the show and uses the best quality source possible (i.e. Hulu, ABC, Fox, etc.) and then starts streaming from there. Commercials are still there because it is just streaming from the source, not downloading it to your Orb (which does not have a hard drive) or computer. Plus, that's revenue for the sources, so you can't steal that away from them.

Streaming videos from these sources turned out to be great. There were a few quirks, like buffering you'd normally see on your computer screen. Or, if the stream stalled, it went back to the very beginning of the episode and I'd have to start watching again. YouTube videos also popped up without a problem, and Netflix started streaming from my Watch Instantly queue within 30 seconds.

The only place I ran into a real problem was streaming video from my computer over my home Wi-Fi network. Streaming small, lower-quality movie clips from podcasts went alright, although there were a few stalls here and there. But it was impossible to stream HD episodes I had bought from iTunes. I tried the SD versions too, and still, it just said "Loading" on my TV screen forever.

Since I had so many other video options with the Orb TV, I forgave this, but it was very frustrating.

Audio

No problems whatsoever with the audio playback from my computer. All of my playlists in iTunes were found with the app, so I could play them directly on my TV. That could be handy for house parties. Users can also create playlists directly in the Orb Controller app.

The big online music sources here YouTube (same experience here as with video: good), Pandora and Sirius. As with Netflix, you have to input your user information first before connecting. But once you do, the streaming should be good to go.

The only section that is rather disappointing here is the Internet Radio section, about which even the Orb TV reps I spoke with lamented. There isn't so much of a catalog here, and the transmission quality can be quite bad sometimes. Best to stick with Pandora here.

Photos

Aside from the photos I have stored in iPhoto and elsewhere on my computer (which has to be specified in the Orb Caster software on your computer), I also linked in my Flickr account, which is the only online photo storage solution available with Orb at the moment.

Unfortunately, I suffered the same problem with Flickr that I did with my HD videos. Loading the images from Flickr on my TV stalled to the point where I gave up (about two minutes). I tried several times within an hour, but nothing. Flickr wasn't down online, so I suspect it was the file sizes of my photos.

Despite loading problems with some sources, I generally enjoyed using Orb TV overall. My favorite aspect has to be the video streaming. Netflix was nearly instantaneous, and it sure beats watching The Office on Hulu on my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

AVAILABILITY

Orb TV is available now for $99 and can be ordered online at orb.com. That is a one-time only fee, meaning you don't have to pay extra monthly charges...except for the usual Netflix and Sirius subscriptions.

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