I had the privilege of drinking from the firehose at Streaming Media East last week in New York. One of the highlights of the conference was the Broadband Device Pavilion, where you could compare more than twenty connected Blu-ray, video game and stand-alone streaming boxes.
Device Pavilion at Streaming Media East
In the past, the Hub has written a lot about devices such as the TiVo, Roku, PS3 and Apple TV. The Device Pavilion gave me a chance to get hands-on with some boxes I didn’t know much about. The box that surprised me the most was the Western Digital (WD) TV Live Hub especially if you’re not ready to commit to the cloud. With its 1 TB internal hard drive, it can function as a media server for your home via DLNA or iTunes. Supporting 1080P and a colorful user interface, it has a wide-range of audio and video connectivity (HDMI, component, composite and SPDIF). While it doesn’t have the widest selection of streaming services (there’s no Amazon or VUDU), it appears to be running the Netflix HTML5 client and now supports Dolby Digital surround sound. The WD’s list of supported codecs is also fairly impressive. However, it was disappointing to see WD TV Live Hub lacked built-in wireless. If you don’t need the 1 TB drive and all of the audio/video connectivity, you can always opt for the smaller WD Live Plus instead. Given it runs a DLNA client, the WD Live Plus differentiates itself from the Roku which is in the same price range.
|WD TV Live Hub|
The other surprise device was the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex TV. This device can pretty much play any file format you throw at it. While it’s also light on paid streaming services (Netflix is included), it can display RSS feeds. The Seagate will work with any USB connected external storage or you can plug a GoFlex ultra-portable drive directly in.
Another a-ha for me at Streaming Media East was the HBO Go application. If you are an HBO subscriber, it gives you access to every season of every HBO show. Content is king and HBO is one of the few channels out that can bypass an aggregator like Netflix. While there are exclusive movies such as Avatar that you cannot get on any other streaming service, the overall movie catalog is pretty thin at only 231 titles. In addition to the current iPad and iPhone apps, versions will be developed for a number of platforms starting with Google TV. The other pleasent surprise in the HBO GO app is the inclusion of significant parental controls through sub-accounts. Based on HBO’s answers in the Q&A, it appears there are no plans to go direct to the consumer; they realize the number of cord-cutters are not significant enough yet. So, it’s going to be a while before you get to see Game of Thrones if you’re not a subscriber. I have to admit, that I am seriously thinking about adding HBO to my FIOS line up. Investigating…