Some reviews are difficult not because of the technology discussed, but because the purpose of that technology doesn’t come across as having any value. We can all say that TV has its good moments amidst the bad — and that’s why we watch so much of it. But not in the same way we used to.
Over 15 years ago, I had one of the first series of REPLAY recorder units. It predated TiVo but performed the same function; a hard drive recorded TV shows coming to it from a cable box or antenna or satellite receiver. Of course there was all kinds of settings and adjustments to make so that you could access the correct program guide and direct the infrared “blaster” cable to tell the video source (i.e., cable box) what channel to go to and for how long to stay on it.
Today few have dedicated digital recorders, except inside their computers, as most use a DVR-equipped video source device — again either a cable box or satellite receiver. But if you’re not there to watch the content that’s been recorded (or playing through the video source device), you’re out of luck. And for all the talk of streaming video off a portable device or accessing content in the “Cloud,” the fact remains that sometimes you want to see what you want to see without any of the bugaboos of internet connectivity issues or other people accessing the same server for content.
Guess that’s why Belkin’s made the G1V1000 @TV Plus. How it works is simple: it takes the content off the video source device (whether “live” or “recorded”) and transmits it through your home network to your mobile device — be that a smartphone or tablet or a Mac/PC computer. And if that device isn’t at home, transmission through the Internet is the next step in the process. And of course your mobile device can tell @TV Plus what to do, because the app you are running can hook into it, which then hooks into the video source device.
That’s the how — but the process is a bit more involved, although difficult, nah. Mostly that’s due to how much automated today’s home networks have become, as well as how we are all a lot more hipped into the whole “streaming” remote thing.
To start, three things must happen: you must connect the @TV Plus to the video source device; you must connect the @TV Plus to your home network; you must prepare the @TV Plus so it can control the video source device appropriately. OK — make it four, since you must also access the content being controlled through the @TV Plus from a mobile device.
So let’s go by the numbers. The @TV Plus is small, router-like looking device in that it’s horizontal. There’s a power plug, an Ethernet plug and an IR Blaster plug (more on this later). To get the video signal into the @TV Plus, you have the choice of composite or Component; while 480p resolution is as high as it gets, using a Component cable means you can get a widescreen image, not stuck with a 4:3 box-like one that Composite would do. And the rez looks a lot better when Composite is used — trust me, I tested it out with both types of cables and you can see that the 4:3 looks fuzzy on the monitor.
But getting back to attaching that cable– its purpose is to take the video signal from a video source device, in this case a Dish Network satellite receiver. Since Component can’t carry audio, you’ve also analog RCA stereo inputs (no multichannel audio, duh). On the output end of the @TV Plus, you’ve the same series — you’ll need these if the video signal is going directly from the video source device to the flat panel, HDTV, front projector, etc. As then you’ll intercept the signal before it gets displayed.
Since the Dish uses HDMI through a amp used as a switcher, all I have to connect are the Composite and audio cables. And just to note, the lack of HDMI isn’t due to cost but the protection circuity employed so piracy can be avoided.
The one connection that you must be sure of is in getting the business end of the IR Blaster’s cable near where the IR panel of the video source device is. With some, like the Dish, you can shine a light at the front panel to find the IR receiver. Then you can either place the cable near this or tape it to it, your call. Most video source devices will say in their manual where the IR receiver is. If not, trial and error will determine it for you.
I’m also attaching an Ethernet cable directly into the @TV Plus — later I’ll “cut” the cord by switching on its WiFi and programming it for my home network. But this makes for one less barrier for me to deal with.
So the cables are attached and the @TV Plus is plugged in for AC. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to set IT UP from your computer and not have to go through all kinds of menus using some dorky remote? Well since there’s NO remote, guess the software you download from Belkin for your Mac or PC is what you’ll be using. So okay we’ll do that on a Mac Pro.
The software is pretty straightforward and will only take a few minutes of your time (this is helped along by the @TV Plus auto-detecting the kind of connection made to it) . After I enter all the needed info so it knows to control my Dish receiver and knows my time zone and what channels I get, it’s up to me to go manual and switch the @TV Plus to WiFi.
Now I can watch the video on a screen in the software on my computer or on a laptop, providing I’ve loaded in the software first. The @TV Plus is named by me and password protected so that’s all good. And of course my home network is also protected — which in my case meant I had to manually adjust some settings so that the @TV Plus could stream video through the network and into the Internet (the software setup does this for you if it can since some routers will balk at doing this and some anti-virus software and computer firewalls can cause grief).
I have to add that the first thing that popped up when I ran the software was an update request — which I let go by and about 10 minutes later the @TV Plus had been programmed with the latest software, courtesy of Belkin. I like this kind of convenience; in the same way I was happy that the software figured out the codes the IR Blaster needed to work the Dish receiver.
Now using the @TV Plus really means loading in the app Belkin provides on your tablet (Android/iPad) or Android smartphone/iPhone. You’ll move through the password protection and then have access to the video stored on the receiver (or being played “live”). Guide menus and others of its kind make for easy use, and in your home using multiple devices is no issue — Belkin says you can access the @TV Plus with up to 8 mobile devices simultaneously. Of course the more devices in use, the lower the overall resolution is going to be, although two devices (an iPhone and iPad) looked fine to me. Definitely the iPad looks good and the image is sharp and clear. Outside the local network, only one device can work at a time and anyone else trying to gain access (be they local or not) will get a null and void message instead. Accessing from a hot spot looks similar to being at home and doing it — over a cellular network, a bit more stuttering can happen. Cellular offers too many variables so yeah, stick with WiFi when you can. But the ability to record what’s being streamed to the device (in my test, the iPad) really makes sense: it might take a bit longer than being saved in real-time, but when watched later it runs in real-time. If you are in a spotty area reception-wise, or know you’ll be where there’s no reception later, being able to do a recording to watch later is a great convenience.
I have to say that not being stuck with turning on the TV is kind of cool — I ended up using my iPad to access recordings of Conan while sitting on the balcony and it looked as good as any of those “portable” DVD players with built in screens that used to be in vogue years back. I was also able to catch the news while waiting for the Dentist to show up with her humongous needle. That was good — the news, I mean. And yes the image does “look” sharper on the smaller phone screen — even though that’s just perception.
Bottom line: The Belkin G1V1000 @TV Plus performs exactly as it says it will, although the quality of that performance can be sullied by a stuttering cellular network or a clogged Internet — neither of which is the hardware or software’s fault. For watching the content you’ve recorded or want to see “live,” @TV Plus is far superior to that of streaming content from other people’s servers. Add a retail of under $150 and the ability to record the content to your mobile device for later and uninterrupted viewing, and Belkin sure has a winner here.
- Well thought out controls and automated systems for the device and software
- One-time fee for smartphone app
- DVD-quality resolution only
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.