I first met Monsoon Multimedia at CES 2011 and talked with them a little bit about their up and coming products. I remember getting excited about what they were telling me but also had that bit of reserve thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” First of all, I like it when a company speaks with me and remembers me after the sales pitch extravaganza that CES is. Let’s face it, HSS is not the largest blog out there but these guys got me a review unit of the Vulkano Flow after telling me they would do so at CES. I like that in a company. Now, lets see if the Flow can stand up to the hype.
Let me take a second to steal some text from their website to tell you about the company itself.
One word that you will constantly see when reading about the Vulkano product line is, “Sling.” I’m not sure if it’s an honor to be lumped in with Sling or if it’s a slander to these guys but I believe they are trying to differentiate themselves from the word by making a slight different, if not better, product.
Now that I’ve said the “S” word you now get the idea of what the product line is attempting to do. Watch live TV from your cable or satellite provider on multiple platforms, schedule recordings from those platforms and devices, and more.
Here is where it can get confusing. Wading through the details of the six products they offer. I wish the website had a table of features for each unit. They do have a link to a “which is best for me” page but it still left me a little unsatisfied. Here it is in it’s entirety.
Regardless of that, I’m reviewing the Flow. The Vulkano Flow is a TV Anywhere box. A placeshifter. It has clients for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android. You can view and record on the PC and Mac and it has wireless N built in as well as Ethernet. It’s crazily inexpensive at $99 and I’ve seen it at Amazon for $88. The mobile clients are also half the cost of what the “S” word folks charge for theirs. Don’t forget that. If you just want to watch on the PC or Mac you are golden as the download is free. Otherwise, be ready to pay $12.99 for a client.
I want to see that crazy long list of technical specs
Decoders:H.263(Sorenson), H.264 BP, H.264 MP, H.264 EP, H.264 HP, AVS, VP6, M-JPEG, MPEG-2 MP@HL, MPEG-4 ASP, WMV7/8, WMV9/VC-1
Encoders:MPEG-4 ASP, H.264 BP, H.264 MP, M-JPEG
Decoder:JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
Decoder:MP3, WMA8, WMA9, WMA10 Pro, AAC LC, HE-AAC, FLAC, OGG Vorbis, G.711, G.726, G.729AB
Encoder:WMA8, MP3, AAC LC, G.711, G.726, G.729AB
- YPrPb (up to 1080i) or
- S-Video + Composite (NTSC/PAL)
- Macrovision x support
- 3 10-bit DACs @ x MHz
- 1 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet port
- WiFi 802.11n
- 1 USB 2.0 port
Explain the ports please!
The Flow is meant to sit between the Set Top Box (STB) and the TV. If you are lucky, your STB may have dual output ports and you can leave your setup the way you have it now and connect the extra outputs to the Flow’s inputs. Notice, no HDMI. Can you guess why? Analog has no DRM or HDCP, hint hint.
It supports up to 1080i and will down convert to 720x480 for the client. No HDMI input but some of their boxes do have HDMI out.
I know what else your thinking. Does it work with Media Center? Can I finally record satellite content with my Media Center? Answer is…..No! Their explanation? The Vulcano has an Electronic Program Guide so you don’t Media Center. See the conclusion of this review for more thoughts on Media Center.
Hook it up and download a client to your PC or Mac in order to set it up. The PC Software/Player is 110 Meg! When I hooked up mine and plugged in power the status light was red for about 10 or so seconds, flashed red for a few more and then went green. Looks like a good start.
The obligatory setup screens.
Did this thing just install MSSOAP ? Didn’t that get left behind years ago for .Net? I wasn’t fast enough to capture the screen but I swear it did.
Asks you to create a password
Wireless Setup which I skipped in order to use Ethernet.
Choose your video input. Composite or Component.
Advanced Button was impressive. Every setup screen is in here.
I imagine this is the part that could go wrong for some folks. STB’s and IR. It’s a pain but once you get it working you should be good to go. The setup will coach you through all channel changing and whether you change channels by hitting 1, then enter, or 001, enter, 01, enter, etc. It covers it. Luckily, my setup was easy and I used the default settings throughout.
Multiple digit channel changes worked without tweaking the speed slider.
It tried to configure UPNP ports and failed. Probably due to my DIR-655 router which is flakey with UPNP at times.
Rebooted the router and still not working. Skipping.
Launch the player please!
The on screen remote was not a cheesy set of buttons but rather the actual graphical representation of the remote that came with my box.
Changing channels works great with it.
Watching and Recording
This thing is great for watching satellite content on your PC but a DVR it is not! You can record what you are watching but don’t expect it to do ANYTHING beyond that. I started watching Space Cowboys and hit record but the EPG doesn’t indicate it’s recording. It was recording but just not showing that in the EPG. I guess it doesn’t matter since you can’t record via the EPG like you would normally do with a DVR. The other thing I couldn’t get it to do was bring up my recordings that were on the Dish Network DVR. It would be nice to be able to watch those shows via the player. If there is a way to do this I’ll update the review.
Recording screen shot.
Get out of the house and watch some TV!
Like I said earlier there is a mobile client for almost every mobile device out there. If there isn’t Monsoon is probably working on one. WP7, ahem. I tested Android and the iPad. The Android app worked over 3G but I couldn’t get it to work via Wi-Fi. Odd, but not a big deal at home. What if I’m travelling and hooked up to Wi-Fi? That I didn’t test but read in a forum that it didn’t work. Streamed TV to my HTC Incredible looked very good and I was able to change channels easily. Again, it would be nice to see my DVR’d content via Android.
The iPad was also enjoyable but had it’s quirks.
As you can see by the screen shots there are moments of haziness( or digitization) but when the app has time to run it clears up pretty good. The only gripe I had with it was during remote control actions. When you press a button on the remote it would drop the stream and re-buffer. I would recommend using the app’s EPG and not trying to navigate the STB’s guide. That’s why the Flow gives you a guide after all.
Note to Monsoon Multimedia. Get this thing working with Media Center and you will sell a lot more of them. If I could use the Flow to pipe satellite content into Media Center I would be ecstatic! The Flow never gave me any issues with IR, needing reboots, or dealing with the STB. It would be a great option for Media Center enthusiasts. Monsoon, just make a backdoor setting that would somehow make it work with MC and let us bloggers publish the workarounds. You will sell boxes!
The only other thing I can think of for Media Center fans is to upgrade beyond the Flow and get the DVR version. Record all the shows you want and put them in a directory accessible by Media Center. The only other issue would be tagging the show properly and getting it to show up under Recorded TV. There are many more questions for this type of setup so maybe I can convince Monsoon to send me the rest of their product portfolio.
I’ve seen the flow available for as little as $88. Today on Amazon it’s at $94.95 but not shipped from Amazon. It’s still a great price for the function it provides. Just don’t forget that mobile clients will also add to the cost if you want to view on Android or iOS. The PC and Mac clients are free though. I thought it was easy to setup and get running but I can see someone having trouble with an oddball STB or if not familiar with the cabling requirements. I don’t know if I would recommend using wireless to stream from the Vulcano but it has it if you need it. For the price it’s a great way to get live TV where ever you want it!
Vulkano Flow 010410VF Mobile Accessory for TV Anywhere $94.95 on Amazon.com