To say I’ve considered the Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano to be “highly anticipated” is quite the understatement. I can’t help being a geek, and on paper, the Vulkano really does appear to be the ultimate in video streaming and placeshifting (more on those terms later).
Yesterday, the mailman dropped off a large box containing one of the first Vulkano systems to ship. So, in this first “quick look”, lets see whether this box really can live up to its hype.
Before we go on – let me explain a little bit about what the Vulkano does. The main function of the Vulkano is to stream video. It can do this from your cable box, satellite box or other video source over the Internet. This means you can be sitting in a hotel in Tokyo, connect to your home network using the Vulkano software, and watch TV just like you would at home. The box uses a remote control “blaster” to mimic your own remote, which means you can use the included software to change channels and anything else you’d do with your physical remote.
Now, to be honest, none of this is particularly new – this basic technology is already five years old, and launched with the Slingbox in early 2005. The Vulkano can stream high quality video up to 720×480 pixels (also not that new), but it also acts as a digital video recorder (this is where the box starts to get special). The Vulkano is the evolution of the previous generation box by Monsoon Multimedia – the HAVA.
So, lets take a closer look at the Vulkano itself. The kit is very complete – a large box filled with a variety of video cables, an Ethernet cable, a remote control, a power supply, a remote blaster and a hard drive (in the Deluxe Pro version, others come with an SD card). The product starts off very well, because it comes with ALL the cables you need to use it – including an HDMI cable.
Connecting it to your current setup is rather simple – you plug it into your cable box, TiVo, satellite receiver or other video source using component or composite cables. You then connect the box to your TV using HDMI or composite.
If your TV was already connected to your video source, you’ll either use the Vulkano as a “pass-through” device, or rely completely on the Vulkano to deliver the new signal. You then hook it up to your network (wired) or simply turn it on and use its built in WiFi.
The setup procedure is easy and menu driven. Using the included remote, you tell the box about your zip code and TV provider (for the electronic program guide), you then provide a user name and password, and pick a remote code.
This is where I ran into a minor bug – the remote code for my TiVo was not showing up, so I finalized the programming on my desktop computer. I’ll just assume that this is a bug that’ll be fixed in an upcoming release.
Once configured, I was immediately able to watch TV on my desktop computer. From unboxing to streaming, I was up and running in about 10 minutes. Next up was a test on my phone.
Edit: I’ve uploaded a short HD video clip showing playback over 3G on my phone.
As I mentioned earlier, streaming video like this is nothing new, I’ve been doing it for five years. Using the app on my phone (Google Nexus One) is where I started to realize the potential of the Vulkano – the quality is astounding. I’ve now watched about an hour of video on my phone, using WiFi and 3G, and in most cases, I can barely tell this is streaming. The quality is on par with locally stored video content.
In the mobile app, you can watch live TV, check out the TV guide, view recordings and change settings. The guide is as impressive as video streaming – you can browse the guide by name or channel number, and search for shows.
Once you’ve found a show you like – you can watch it live, or schedule it to record. This recording is made on the Vulkano, so you do not need a separate DVR to store the show. Shows are recorded to an SD memory card or USB/eSATA hard drive.
I’ve only been using the box for a day, so I have not had enough time to make any recordings. In a second review, I’ll show off the DVR features as well as the on-TV features of the Vulkano.
Final thoughts in this quick-look
As I said – the basic foundations of this box are not new. What is new is how well is works. Yes – there are a few minor glitches in the configuration, but the mobile client really is astounding and hasn’t failed once. Best of all, the desktop and mobile players are free. Players are available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry, Android, PC and Mac. A Symbian client is coming soon.
Streaming to another PC also works very well and the quality is the best I’ve ever seen from any TV streamer / placeshifter, including the top of the line Sling product.
In the Vulkano PC Player, you can also access the program guide, view recordings and schedule recordings. One handy feature brought over from the previous generation is a local recording option, which means you can store live TV on your computer. This is perfect if you are watching TV in a hotel room and need to head downstairs for a sandwich – simply return to your computer, and watch the buffered and locally stored content.
The price of the Vulkano is reasonable – $279.99 with 16GB internal storage or $379.99 with a 1TB external drive. The top of the line streamer from the competition retails for $299.99 ($261 from Amazon), but lacks the DVR function, internal storage and requires a $29.99 investment for each mobile player. The Vulkano also works as a DVR for when you are at home, and it can play YouTube clips (whether this is a selling point depends on how much you like YouTube.) To top it all off, the Vulkano also supports music, photo and video files for local and remote viewing, with a decent format support.
Both products are now shipping, and can be ordered from Myvulkano.com or Amazon.com.
As promised, next week I’ll give you a closer look at the local viewing feature, a video clip of the mobile player and a review of the DVR features.