Are Media Extenders Finally Catching On?

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NBC’s Internet based coverage carries twice as much coverage of some categories and most of the top events both live and on-demand.

Do you really want to watch TV on your PC…or your PC on your TV?


Aug. 20, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Could the Olympics with NBC’s integrated coverage from many platforms including regular TV, On-line TV, On-line on-demand TV and mobile phone TV be the catalyst in making the 10 year history of trying to converge TV and PC content a success?

So far, it seems that millions of consumers are participating in all genres of Olympic TV watching. NBC’s web based video is available live and pre-recorded. But more importantly, consumers seem to be using the online on-demand version of Michael Phelps & Co. The result from this coverage is that record breaking numbers of people are using web based video on their PC and on their TV instead of viewing traditional TV only content.

Viewers are seeing clearly marked “live” events unlike TV coverage which has a 12 hour delay. They are getting live web coverage on their Media Center TVs or Media center Extenders or just their PC. This is the first time viewers are able to view and enjoy content for an extended period of time for more than one event like the Super Bowl or Academy Awards. It’s compelling and sort of must see TV-PC.

NBC is averaging nearly 60 hours of integrated TV coverage on regular television through six channels NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Oxygen and USA Network. But, despite the ultra annoying 15 second commercials that are not fast-forward-able, its Internet based coverage on NBCOlympics.com carries twice as much coverage of some categories and most of the top events both live and on-demand.

NBC’s Internet coverage almost makes you think that the advent of a truly convergent mix on TV, Internet and personal content is here. But it wasn’t always this way and the genre still leaves a lot to be desired, whether you are using one of Microsoft’s Media Center extenders, or Internet enabled Linux based extenders from 2-Wire and AT&T, HP or other modem-router makers and soon to be joining the fray TV makers like Samsung.

About ten years ago several leading personal computer firms partnered with Microsoft and/or with the big modem-router makers like Linksys, D-Link and 2-Wire to offer a product for around $300 that would enable you to get some of your PC and Internet content on your TV. Some industry wag reported after the first six months of sales of these content extenders that he couldn’t find one retailer selling them or more than a few even early adopters using or buying them. He’s probably right. I interviewed quite a few leading tech columnists and reporters who were given these devices and could only find one in 25 that would admit to using one even though they got it for free.

The biggest problem both technologically and usability-wise was that no one wanted their PC or early Internet content on their TV and vice versa, and that if they did, because of the computer based format of media extenders, the devices hardly worked or were too difficult to set up.

Because company’s like TiVo, VuDu and Apple TV are leading the way in getting consumers comfortable in configuring routers and software in order to allow these device to deliver PC and Internet based content and vice versa, Microsoft, AT&T, Comcast and Cablevision and others are re-launching their media extenders, hopefully this time with a little more usability and reliability.

Since it seems that more and more consumers want digital convergence and are watching video on their PC and PC content on their TV, I have recently taken a look at this next generation of media extender to see if the manufacturers got it right yet.

Here are some of the products that extend content from the PC to the TV and vice versa….I’ll give you a quick overview with a more extensive review of these products in another month or so when three other variations are due in retail stores or through custom audio-video installation.

Microsoft’s Media Extender (View product)
Using any of the new PCs or laptops from HP and Dell or upgrading your existing PC or laptop to Vista Ultimate, and having better than average broadband speed and power, will enable you to use the D-Link Media Extender. The $300 Wireless HD capable Media Center Extender (DSM-750) device attaches to your TV via component, HDMI or standard audio video jacks. Once you run the setup which comes up pretty easily on the screen, it will give you a code which during a one time maneuver you need to put into your PC (which should see the extender on your desktop. Once the security code is entered, the TV screen guide asks you to select content on your PC. You simply add your music or picture or home video folder and those items become easily viewable on your TV. Despite a super speed broadband in my home, I had difficulty in getting some of the content to work quickly…but modifications to my included D-Link router (which should be easier to work after all this time) resulted is a good experience. I also picked some Internet radio on my TV from this media extender. Very similar products based on the Microsoft Media Extender Platform are available from HP, Dell and soon Samsung.

Quick Review: Still not quite ready for prime-time. For the average user I give it 2.5 stars (out of 5).

Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick (View product)
Pinnacle with its PCTV HD Ultimate Stick and AMD with its TV Wonder accessory allow you to Watch and record Standard Definition and free HD TV with no service fees since they both are picking up over the air signals and delivering them on your laptop or notebook PC. The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, which was previously ranked as one of the worst products and hardest to install has taken a 180-degree turn. It literally took five seconds to hookup to my laptop and I had crystal clear HD channels as well as at least 12 digital channels and six analog channels even though I am an hours drive to the nearest big city. I simply ran the digital TV tuner and personal video recorder software from the Stick’s on-board flash memory after plugging it into an available USB port. An easy settings guide helped download a TV listings for my area and I was watching and recording TV in seconds. The PCTV HD Stick supports both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) TV signals. The digital TV tuner hardware is also ready for ClearQAM (unencrypted digital cable). You can record up to 2 hours of TV directly to the stick for playback on any PC….or save recordings to your hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX formats or even direct-to-DVD.

Quick Review: For the newbie and the experienced technology user, I give this 3.5 stars…losing a half a star because of bad packaging.

ATI TV Wonder™ HD 650 Combo USB for PC (View product)
The ATI TV Wonder HD 650 Combo USB TV tuner loads your system with a complete set of media capabilities. I was able to transform my older PC and newer media center HP notebook into an all-around video entertainment system. The system worked easily…much better than ATI’s internal system which you have to open the PC and physically install the hardware. With this system it was easy to plug into either PC with the tuner –TV reception working almost from the get go.

Attach an amplified high definition antenna or even one of the newer non-powered antennas or your analog TV cable and you can watch, pause, or record high definition TV on your PC. Even analog TV stations are strongly improved by the advanced 3D Comb Filter that produces a quality TV and video feeling. This supposedly is the same kind of filter found on many recent model high-end TVs. Like the Pinnacle product, this system uses a lot of noise reduction technology which has to be manually tuned since my experience both systems failed to incorporate noise reduction automatically…a minor annoyance.

Quick Rating: For newbies 3.5 stars…a little too much tuning and manipulation of controls. For experienced users 4 stars due to the advanced options.



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