Review: Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano – Part 2

Vulkano

Back in August, we took our first look at the Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano. In that review, we promised to take a closer look at some of its other features in a later reivew. As it turned out, the Vulkano got off to a bit of a false start, because some of its more advanced features did not work as advertised.

Now, several months later, the Vulkano has received a variety of firmware and software updates, so read on to see whether it can live up to its high expectations.

But first a recap of what Vulkano does. The compact box sits at home, connected to your video source. This can be a cable box, satellite box, DVR, or anything else that delivers a component or composite video signal.

Once connected to a video source, the box is hooked up to the Internet using Wi-Fi (built in) or wired to Ethernet. The basic principle behind the box is that it can stream video anywhere in the world, to a computer or mobile device.

As we showed in our original review, this part of the Vulkano works perfectly – and the streaming video quality is outstanding.Vulkano

The advanced features of the Vulkano are what set it apart. In addition to streaming video, the unit can also function as a digital video recorder and program guide. The guide can be accessed in three different ways – on your TV using the included remote, on your PC using the desktop software and on your mobile device.

The program guide, or EPG, works just like you may already be used to from your TiVo or other DVR. You can browse all your channels, pick programs you’d like to record, and schedule them. Once scheduled, the Vulkano will take care of recording from that channel – and uses its IR blaster to control your video source.

Vulkano

Once a program has been recorded, you can watch the recording on your TV. So far – this is all still the same as most DVR’s. Where the Vulkano gets really interesting is that you can also transfer this recording to any other Vulkano player – mobile or desktop.

Vulkano

In real life, this means you can be in your hotel room, tell Vulkano to record your favorite show, then in the morning, you can transfer it to your mobile device, ready to watch on your flight back home.

Vulkano

In reality, this is works relaitively well – albeit with a few caveats. For starters, you can not watch streaming video when the Vulkano is recording a program. You also need to be sure the unit will correctly talk to your cable box or DVR to tell it what to record. In my case, my TiVo refused to change channel (for whatever reason) and I ended up with two hours of the wrong recording. Though to be fair, this is hardly the fault of the Vulkano.

Vulkano

Recordings are made to an SD memory card or eSATA hard drive. The basic Vulkano version ($149.99) comes without storage, the Deluxe version comes with a 16GB memory card ($279.99) and the Deluxe Pro version is delivered with a 1TB drive, enough for 900 90 minute shows ($379.99).

On your home TV, the Vulkano also lets you watch live TV or Youtube clips, and other content sources will be added in the future.

So – does the box deliver on its promise? Absolutely. There are still minor unpolished issues, but over the past month with this current box, I have not seen any reboots or other serious issues. The lack of being able to watch streaming video while a recording is in progress is annoying, but not really a dealbreaker.

Remote video streaming quality is still excellent, and the mobile players are all free – a big difference from its main competitor where mobile players retail for $30.

I won’t pretend that the product is 100% complete – many Monsoon Multimedia products usually remain a work in progress, but the basics are all there, and they all work as they should. In other words, the product can only get better over time.

With Black Friday coming up, Monsoon is offering a $50 discount on any Vulkano product – just enter coupon code 112510 during checkout. Expires on 11/28/10.

Review and first look: Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano Deluxe Pro

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.

10 products for your JetBlue “All You Can Jet” high-tech survival kit

So, you just booked yourself a JetBlue All You Can Jet ticket? 30 days of non stop jetting around the country (and beyond).

You are either extremely smart, or up for a month of hell in the skies. Either way, on your trip, you are bound to run into all kinds of challenges. Getting a good seat is going to be the least of your worries. For the next 30 days you’ll need to worry about packing light, keeping gadgets charged, and what to do if you find yourself stuck at the airport overnight without a hotel reservation.

Worry not – we’ve collected ten brilliant products designed to make your life easier during your 30 days of All You Can Jet.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig]

Suite Arrival deliveries

The idea behind Suite Arrivals is brilliant – pre-order toiletries, snacks and other items, and have them delivered to your hotel or other address. Now, before you leave on your All You Can Jet adventure, order up whatever you think you’ll need, and it’ll be ready waiting for you when you arrive. Prices start as low as a dollar, up to around $20 for a well stocked snack and toiletries set. Keeping toiletries out of your bags means less time messing around at the security checkpoint.

Price: $1 & up
Product page: Suitearrival.com

Boingo Subscription

When you travel, The Internet can quickly become your best distraction from the otherwise boring hotel or airport. Instead of paying $10 for each online session, sign up for a monthly pass to Boingo, and use a single monthly fee to get online as often as you want. With thousands of locations, you’ll quickly find that Boingo is almost everywhere you are.

Price: $9.95/month for unlimited domestic usage
Product page: Boingo.com

Eye-Fi card

During your All You Can Jet adventure, you’ll (hopefully) be making as many photos as you can – which means your memory card will be filling up at an insane rate. For active photographers, not much beats the convenience of the Eye-Fi memory cards. These 4GB and 8GB memory cards can upload your photos any time your camera is in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Best of all, when you combine your Eye-Fi card with Devicescape and a Boingo subscription, you can turn your camera on as soon as you land at a Boingo airport, and instantly upload your photos. All without having to press a single button. Photos that have been successfully uploaded can be wiped from your card, means you’ll almost never run out of storage space.

Price: from $49.99
Product page: Eye.fi

ZAGGsparq 2.0

During your 30 days of flying, you’ll probably only have a couple of days of access to a power outlet. For the days your phone is away from AC, the ZAGGsparq 2.0 can be your new best friend. Inside this compact USB charger is a massive 6000mAh battery pack, with enough juice to keep your iPhone or other phone going for almost a full week.

Its own AC charger is built in, so as soon as your are near an outlet, plug it in, and get it back to 100% in a few hours. With its two USB ports, you can charge two devices at the same, as long as your remember to bring the right USB device cables!

Price: $99.99
Product page: www.zagg.com

HotelPal, FlightTrack Pro, TripIt

This trio of smartphone software provides the ultimate in travel support. With TripIt, you can gather all your flight plans, FlightTrack Pro keeps track of your flight status, and HotelPal lets you search and book local hotels. Seriously, load these three on your phone, and you’ll have everything you need to prevent, avert and resolve flight delays and cancellations.

To use the apps, simply forward all your confirmation emails to TripIt. TripIt will then translate all the information in the emails, and load your itineraries into its system. FlightTrack Pro then syncs with TripIt and constantly monitors for delays, cancellations, gate changes and more. FlightTrack Pro and HotelPal are available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Pro-users can even setup shared TripIt calendars, so friends and family always have easy access to their itineraries.

Price: TripIt (Free), FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) and HotelPal (Free)
Product page: Tripit.com / Mobiata.com

Briggs & Riley BRX luggage – 22″ Upright

If you are a smart planner, you’ll try to minimize your time in hotels, along with the weight of your luggage. The new Briggs & Riley BRX line of luggage takes the luxury side of Briggs & Riley, and turns it into a super-lightweight adventure style line of bags. The 22″ BRW Upright weighs just 7.5lbs, features wide all-terrain wheels, a sturdy handle and four compression straps. Its front zippered compartment holds a 16″ laptop, and thanks to its outer handle assembly, the inside is nice and flat, perfect for keeping shirts wrinkle free.

Price: $290
Product page: Briggs-riley.com

Griffin Travel Stand for iPhone and iPod

Sure, JetBlue may offer live TV and radio, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you want to watch on TV. If you’d rather sit back and enjoy your own programming, consider the compact Griffin Travel Stand for iPhone and iPod. Don’t let the name fool you, this smart gadget works with almost any smartphone, and combines a device stand with a neat headphone case.

Price: $14.99
Product page: Griffintechnology.com

Monster Beats Tour High Definition headphones

I don’t care how much of an aviation buff you are – after a couple of days, the jet noise will get to anyone. Even pilots wear good headphones, but your lightweight packing procedure won’t have enough space for a pair of bulky headphones. So, unless you want to leave your clean underwear at home, consider a pair of good quality headphones.

The Monster Beats Tour headphones block out a good amount of outside noise, while providing fantastic audio and bass. Best of all, their connector is ultra low-profile, which means it won’t stab you in the side when plugged into the seat audio jack.

Price: $179.95
Product page: Monster Beats Tour

Smartphone, iPad, netbook or laptop

Picking the best device for your trip is a tough one – everyone has different needs, and not everyone will want to be connected all the time. If you just want an affordable media player, you could consider the affordable Archos 5 series or 7 series Android tablets. For a lightweight laptop without compromises, check out the Toshiba T135. For a lightweight media tablet with fantastic app support, you’ll obviously get a lot of love out of an iPad.

Price: from $199

Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifter/streamer

This is the only product in the list that doesn’t actually travel with you. The Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano stays home, connected to your TV and cable box. With it, you can remotely watch and record anything you receive at home.

Want to watch the latest episode of your favorite show when you wait at the airport? Watch it live over the Internet, or download it to watch on your device during your flight. Want to watch live TV in your hotel room? Connect your laptop to the hotel TV and forget the lousy channels the hotel provides. Landed at your destination, and want to setup a recording? Browse the electronic program guide, and tell the Vulkano to record what you want, when you want. On-the-road entertainment doesn’t get much better than this.

With the Vulkano, you’ll be able to stop spending money on movie rentals or streaming video purchases, and get to enjoy the content you want.

Price: From $259
Product page: myvulkano.com

[Wi-Fi sign photo from Flickr/Futureshape]

Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifting/streamer now available

Right on target (give or take a few days), the Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifting/streaming box is available to the general public. As a quick reminder – this all-in-one box lets you remotely stream live or recorded TV anywhere in the world and even allows for downloads of recorded content to your portable computer or smartphone.

The box comes in a variety of “flavors”, with different versions offering various levels of local storage for video content. With the box, you’ll be able to travel the world, and still keep up to date with the latest in your favorite reality TV show. When you find yourself at home, you’ll be able to use the box as a DVR, media player or online video box. When traveling, you can also schedule recordings. Best of all, other than the investment in the box itself, there are no other costs involved.

We hope to have a full review of the Vulkano next week, but if you can’t wait for our opinion, head on over to the Vulkano site or Amazon.com where you’ll be able to place your order. Prices start at $259 for the basic 8Gb Vulkano up to $379 for the Vulkano Deluxe with a 1TB hard drive.