There are many things I like about being here in Pensacola. One thing I do not, however, like is the poor television infrastructure at my hotel. I don’t get many of the channels I’d like to watch, and there’s no DVR so if something comes on when I’m doing something else (like, oh, I don’t know… WORKING or something), too bad. This essentially puts me back in time to 1999 or so, right before I got a preproduction TiVo evaluation unit– the first one in Alabama and quite possibly one of the very first east of the Mississippi.
Anyway, enough ancient history. Fast-forward to 2011, where my TV watching is mostly episodic: I want to be able to follow The Walking Dead, Flying Wild Alaska, and a few other shows. I could (and do) buy these episodes from iTunes, but that doesn’t help if I want to watch something on a channel I don’t get here (and believe me, that’s a long list).
I knew about the Slingbox and briefly considered getting one. As I was researching it, though, I came across the Vulkano line of devices. They are less expensive than the Slingbox, so I figured I’d give the Flow a try. There are a number of other devices that can act as DVRs and do various other tricks, but I wanted to use my existing U-Verse DVR and just watch it remotely.
The Flow doesn’t do HDMI, so I ordered it along with a component cable and had it shipped to my office. My friend Alex agreed to go install it in my apartment, and that went fairly smoothly; after about 30 min of work on his part (aided by text messages and Facebook chat) he’d gotten the Flow installed and configured and I was able to view a stream on my laptop.
Monsoon has free Windows and Mac OS X clients, and they sell iOS (and maybe Android?) clients. I bought the iOS client and used it immediately to watch an episode of The Simpsons, and it worked as advertised; the picture quality was only OK but it was certainly acceptable on the iPad. The real problem is the crappy Internet bandwidth at my hotel. I didn’t use it much after that, as I’ve been too busy to watch TV. However, the other night my coworkers were bellyaching about not being able to see an NFL game that was only on the NFL Network, which the hotel doesn’t get. I dragged out my laptop, plugged it into the HDMI port on the TV, fired up the Vulkano app, and we watched the game, just like it says on the box. At first the picture was a bit jumpy, but once I switched over to using my iPhone with tethering instead of the hotel Internet, we were able to watch the HD NFL Network channel at 720 x 480 and it looked great.
Last night we used it to watch a Simpsons episode here in Huntsville, where the hotel Internet is waaaay better. Picture quality was quite good and there were no drops or lags.
I’m sold. The only real complaint I have is that when you use the onscreen remote to change channels, fast-forward, pause, etc., there’s a noticeable 2-3 second lag. This makes it really tricky to do things like skip commercials, so I often don’t bother. I need to play around and see if there’s a way to solve the lag, but apart from that I’m delighted so far.