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Orb TV VP-1 Review Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 January 2011

ImageThe rapid growth of the smart phone market has heavily influenced design choices and device compatibility in the home theater realm, both with audio and video components.  For instance, you couldn’t go more than a few steps at CES 2011 without seeing another device that was utilizing Apple’s Airplay functionality for streaming media.  There are devices being released with molded ports for iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches and the barrage of Android phones.   In addition, the home theater television is getting smarter and providing access to a wider variety of web content like Netflix, Hulu and other downloadable video services.  If you don’t want to upgrade to that net connected TV yet, there are a barrage of step-top boxes and Blu-ray players that can perform the same function.  Beyond that, there are devices like the Orb TV VP-1.   

The WP-1 is not a set-top box, but rather a way to connect your television to a library of media on your home computers as well as the web.  It requires at least one smart phone as well as one computer to perform this function.  It’s a very small device, basically the size of a thin hockey puck and can easily be hidden in a home theater setup.  It connects to your television via a 3.5mm jack to component connection and a similar jack for stereo audio with an RCA adaptor.  There is no HDMI connection, digital audio connection or wired Ethernet jack available on the unit.  Other ports on the unit include the AC adaptor, 3.5mm jack for an IR blaster and a USB port for connecting it to a PC.  It connects to your home network via 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, so you have to be wary of placement in regards to signal strength.

In order to setup the device, you have to install the Orb Caster software on any PC that you would like to stream content from.  It’s compatible for both Macs and PCs.  You connect the Orb TV unit up to the PC via USB and it runs through a short setup process to sync everything up on your wireless network.  It’s a pretty painless process, but the software will eat up a chunk of time cataloging all your music / movies if you have a great deal of content on your home network.  Once the setup process is finished, you simply connect the disc-like device up to your television and install the Apple or Android Orb Controller application on your smart phone to continue.  The apps aren’t particularly sleek, but they do act as a rudimentary way to browse through your content library as well as access the web’s content.  


Orb All devices

Beyond your own media, the device allows you to connect to services like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, ESPN3 etc…  Since the source believes that this is running into a PC, you aren’t running into problems like Hulu blocking their services in order to promote access to Hulu Plus.  The device takes the streaming video and encodes it for your television.  Unfortunately, the glaring problem with the device is that it cannot handle High Definition.  The output is often fluctuates between DVD quality and broadcast TV quality, typically sending over a SD signal to the television.  Frankly, image quality stinks due to the huge amount of noise and artifacts that covered the screen during playback. This is a huge black mark for anyone that owns a HD television.
It also makes Netflix and Hulu streaming content significantly worse than devices like the Apple TV, Blu-ray players or the gaming consoles.  You cannot watch any of the Netflix HD content and Hulu content is often prone to freezing due to certain ad placements that the device can’t encode.  You also cannot log into your Hulu account, a necessity if you want to watch anything that’s rated TV-MA.  The shows that can be played often take a while to start streaming, something that’s fairly annoying when sitting down to watch a show.  The Orb Controller also likes to list older episodes that aren’t even still available on Hulu, another annoying problem with media selection.

We are somewhat befuddled as to who this device is targeted at.  Someone that hasn’t upgraded to a HD television yet probably doesn’t care much about advanced streaming technology for their home.  Those that did upgrade to HD are going to be disappointed with the video quality and are likely much better off picking up an Apple TV (same price) or Western Digital TV Live Hub ($100 more) to have direct access to streaming content that looks vastly better than encoded material on the Orb TV.  Without HD streaming, this iteration of the Orb TV really doesn’t fit into the current home theater and we can’t recommend it for anyone that wants to upgrade their theater for access to web based video. 

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