Sling Media carved the path for place-shifting and remains the dominant player, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying to get in on the action. Well, one other at least. Monsoon Multimedia, founded by the same guys who created Dazzle back in the 90s, started competing in space several years ago with their lineup of Hava place-shifters. I checked out a demo during CES a while back, but always shied away from doing any reviews personally given my previous role running the former SlingCommunity website. Instead, our friend Doug Feltau if Gizmos for Geeks did a review for DVRplayground, which is well worth a read if you want to learn more about it.
With Sling Media no longer innovating in the consumer place-shifting space since being acquired by Dish Network (they haven’t had a new retail product since the Slingbox PRO-HD launched in September of 2008), it’s high time I take a look at what Monsoon’s entry level place-shifter, the Vulkano Flow, has to offer.
The Vulkano Flow
Monsoon’s Vulkano Flow competes directly with Sling Media’s Slingbox SOLO, although retails at a much cheaper price point ($99 versus $179). Like its Slingbox rival, the Flow is a single source streamer offering an HD compatible component video, composite, and stereo audio. The Flow actually one-ups the Slingbox SOLO by offering integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi. It’s a nice add, and no doubt many will appreciate it.
Aside from the core functionality of streaming audio and video from a connected device to where ever you are, Monsoon has added some pretty slick features that Slingbox owners could only dream about. For example, the Vulkano player not only has a time buffer for things like instant replay, but it can actually record the stream to a video file on your hard drive. It’s very slick.
In the looks department, the Vulkano is a husky box, almost unnecessarily so, although it sports a much, much thinner profile than the SOLO or PRO-HD (pictured below is the original Slingbox, Slingbox PRO-HD, and the Vulkano Flow). It’s not horribly unattractive, but whether or not you dig the pattern design on the top will depend on your personal preference.
Use and impressions
As an honest to goodness cord-cutter, I’ve recently abandoned my cable box and switched to an HTPC for over the air recording and online video streaming from sources like Hulu and Netflix. For my tests I was able to set up the Vulkano to control an HP Media Center Extender for my TV tuning capabilities, with the added benefit of being able to access and stream video, photos, and audio remotely from my Home Server. I was extremely pleased with the remote programming process; they’ve really nailed this over their competitors.
HD video quality wasn’t anywhere near the Slingbox PRO-HD, which can stream in full 1080i HD to PCs, Macs, and the SlingCatcher. Compared to the Slingbox SOLO, I’d probably give the edge to the Vulkano over LAN. Remote streaming is always difficult to evaluate given how many variables there are in terms of network congestion at a hotspot and connection speeds at a particular location. I tried out the PC player on my notebook in a variety of locations to get a handle on how it fares in regards to remote streaming performance. In short, remote streaming performance was good enough that it wasn’t a decisive win over their competition, although I’d give Sling’s tech the edge in maintaining a connection with fluctuating connection speeds.
It’s great to see someone continuing to innovate in the stand-alone place-shifting space, adding features that their competitors simply won’t (like recording) out of fear from content providers or whatever reason they’re giving these days. Still, I can’t help but feel products like Slingbox and Vulkano have an expiration date. Going forward, place-shifting’s biggest competitor will be the Internet and online video streaming services.
Nonetheless, if you’re a TV junky that can’t live without access to your current DVR from your computer or supported mobile device, there’s still plenty of reason today to own a dedicated place-shifter. At $99, the Flow fits the bill nicely, particularly if you plan on using it remotely most of the time. So long as your mobile device phone is supported (currently iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry), I’d probably recommend the Flow over the Slingbox SOLO… even if the experience isn’t quite as polished.
Satisfy your inner geek while fueling your TV addiction… TV Tech Fix is a column by Matt Whitlock, editor of the TechLore.com Consumer Electronics Community (plus several other gadget-focused community websites), and lover of both technology and TV. In this column, he’ll cover a wide variety of tech topics aimed squarely at the TV addicts of the world – from tips and tricks to help you better your TV experience, to gear recommendations, to the impact technology is having on the TV shows we love.