Viewers seeking to bring Internet video content to their TV have more options than ever before, and just about all of them have their pluses and minuses. The newest, the Orb TV, is no different. It’s got a lot going for it, but also falls victim to quite a few bugs that will hopefully be fixed in future editions.
The Orb TV, coming from the company of the same name, has a unique setup: it’s a shiny little object, the size and shape of a hockey puck, that attaches to your TV through component cables. It gets configured through your computer so it can run on your home Wi-Fi network, and (in another twist) the whole setup is controlled with an iPod/iPhone app.
Using this setup, you can watch a wide variety of video content, everything that’s on Netflix Instant Watch, the entirety of YouTube and DailyMotion, plus sports content from the online channel ESPN3 and any video from your computer’s hard drive. Hulu is available too, but more on that in a minute.
There are many very good things about Orb TV. It’s got a great look and a promising, unique setup. It’s affordable, much more so than most of its competitors. The app, available on Apple and Android devices, is a great idea, and also easy to set up and use.
And the content availability is reasonably wide, in an hour of playing with it, I plowed through a TV episode on Netflix, some videos of my son (via my hard drive) and, from YouTube, some Hold Steady concert footage and a funny montage of Nicolas Cage screaming in various movies.
The biggest drawback? It’s a big one: no HD. If you’re watching through an HDTV, and I imagine most Orb TV users will, the content is of very subpar video quality compared to what you’re likely used to, especially most YouTube stuff. This is especially a problem with the ESPN3 channel, not only is the content limited, but sports in 2010 is pretty worthless if it’s not in HD.
When we reach the future day when the entirety of Netflix is available through streaming, being able to watch it through Orb TV or other connectible devices will be huge. But for now, the options are sadly limited, only about three things on my queue were available. This is more Netflix’s problem than Orb’s, but nonetheless.
The Hulu availability, in a big selling point for the Orb TV, does not require a Hulu Plus subscription. But this is a sort of bait-and-switch; the remote allows you to click on TV shows, say, “How I Met Your Mother,” and then includes subfolders for every season. So can you call up and watch any episode you want? Afraid not, it’s a handful of episodes from the last couple of seasons and empty folders for the first three or four. Same with “Friends” and numerous other shows. Not to mention, once again, no HD.
The setup was a bit of a challenge as well, requiring me to change the encryption on my router to get the Orb TV to recognize it (tech support was helpful in this, however). And using the product requires you to keep your laptop open. Close it, and the picture stops.
Orb has already announced that a software update would take place the week of Christmas, which will add support for Hulu Plus, fast forward/rewind capability for Hulu, playback of Amazon video-on-demand movies and fix some bugs related to broken links on some videos.
But for now, the Orb TV may have trouble competing with its rivals- especially now that Apple TV is just as small and just as cheap. EG