In planning a recent extended trip for the family, the issue of accessing our home DVR content came up in a conversation with my wife. I was going to go the industry standard Slingbox route, but decided to do some additional homework to see if the remote viewing market had evolved at all. I am also very weary of the 2 things that Slingbox users (including a number of friends) complain about (1. HIGH cost of add-ons such as a $30 iOS app and 2. The issue of boxes flaking out, usually due to patch problems) that I wanted to avoid.
Anyways, after some research I decided to go with the very budget friendly (around $130) Belkin @TV Plus – Mobile Television Anywhere. All in all it was fairly well received for being a newer device, seemed easy enough to setup, and the apps are more reasonable for iOS and Android (the tablet apps are free). I the device last night, so decided to share my experience so far….
Unboxing the Belkin @TV
First, let’s talk about the unboxing experience: everything inside the box is nicely arranged. The box has everything you would need in order to set this up: the power adapter, an Ethernet networking cable, component and composite cables, and an infrared blaster.
But there was no software included, just a link in the setup guide. As someone who generally likes a cloud-based setup, this didn’t bother me at first, but I found the @TV Plus setup to be a bit clunky.
Those who are unfamiliar with placeshifting (basically the concept of watching your content which is stored on one device but accessed from another place through another device) will likely be asking, why doesn’t the device support HDMI? Sadly, this is due to HDMI being somewhat unusable when placeshifting because of copy protection technology called HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection). Sure some placeshifting devices come with HDMI options (such as the Slingbox 500), but anytime HDCP is enabled, your stream will not work. Honestly though I have found the 480p via Component signal to be totally sufficient so far.
Setting up the Belkin @TV
Belkin @TV’s greatest weakness in my opinion is the setup. It is disjointed, the download is kind of large (at 80+MB, but I suppose if you intend to stream video you need a connection that can easily handle an 80+MB download easily), and honestly I found it a bit slow.
Hooking the @TV Plus up to my set top itself was very simple. 30 seconds after starting I was finished. But then to setup and install it I had to load up my computer (versus using any old devices with web access).
The setup wizard on the PC verifies the network connection (and despite having the @TV connected to a wired Ethernet connection it still wanted to configure on my wireless network, which I thought was a little pointless). After (several minutes) waiting for the connection to establish it checked for the latest firmware and updated the device. I did appreciate that, it is nice to see they are following best practices for new devices with new customers and getting them up to date first.
All said and done (over a 50 Mb Internet connection) the setup wizard took about 15 minutes, perhaps I am somewhat spoiled by the near-real-time technology world we have been presented, but this just seemed too long and while not overly technical, I wouldn’t trust my parents (in their 50’s and 60’s) to properly setup this device.
One of the final steps during setup is setting up your username and password. Once you have done this, you are all set and ready to use your Belkin @TV.
Belkin @TV on Tablets and Smartphones
Next, you’ll likely want to setup a tablet and/or smartphone. There are Belkin @TV Apps on all of the standard app stores out there, the good new is that most of them are free! Here is is a breakdown of the various apps and pricing available:
- iPhone – $12.99 – App link on the Apple Appstore
- iPad – FREE – App link on Apple Appstore
- Android Smartphone – $12.99 – App link on Google Play
- Android Smartphone – FREE – App link on the Amazon Appstore (that’s right Amazon offers the Android smartphone app for free!)
- Android Tablets – FREE – App link on Google Play
Using the Belkin @TV Plus
Once the Belkin @TV Plus is setup and your devices are configured (which is basically entering the username/password to connect), the experience is simple and works very well. I had no issues streaming my set top to all my test devices. One thing that annoyed me a little was that out of the box the default video input on the @TV was Composite, so in order for HD content I had to go into the settings on each device and change the video input manually. This was particularly important to me because I have DirectTV and their guide controls (and DVR menus are not shown when the video input is set to Composite) so the only way I could access DVR and guide remotely was by switching to Component.
Overall the Belkin @TV Player is simple and easy to use. I have tested from PC, Mac, iPad and Android Tablet. I have found all of them worked similarly.
Streaming was pretty much flawless over my home network and honestly worked almost as well remotely. However, I have not tested over 3G or LTE, so I cannot speak to the quality (or impact on your data plan) over those methods.
Limitations for Belkin @TV
There were several Belkin @TV limitations that were uncovered during use:
First, as mentioned above the default video input is Composite, so there is an additional step (which might not be so obvious to the less technical user) in order to get a decent experience.
Second, is that the maximum resolution it provided with my setup was 720X480. If you are expecting higher end HD resolutions, you will be disappointed. For me this wasn’t such a big deal since my primary use will likely be over an iPad and the 480p was super watchable.
Screenshot of Belkin @TV Plus in use
Tenny’s final summary of the Belkin @TV Plus
There are not a lot of products in the placeshifting space and one product has really owned the market for the last 5+ years. Belkin’s entry into the space with the @TV Plus product offers consumers a great alternative that works quite well at a more reasonable price. Even though set up is clunky, I would recommend the product, the Belkin @TV Plus is a good device that does its job well.