Posted by Charbax on January 6th, 2009
This is the video-on-demand set-top-box by Verismo Networks, a Moutain View California and Bangalore company, it is also available as a $99 VN100SD Std-Def POD (with S-video output instead of HDMI) but the one that I am reviewing is the $149 VN1000HD with HDMI 720p full codecs support. You can read the specifications about this box at http://vunow.com
The $149 VN1000HD and $99 VN100SD are based on arguably the best and the most advanced SoC ARM and DSP solution on the market, the Texas Instruments DaVinci processor which gives the VuNow a value that you probably wont currently be able to find in any other set-top-box at this price:
- works without the need to have a computer in the home,
- plays all Youtube videos directly from the Internet,
- plays live pre-listed webtv streaming channels,
- uses http://vtap.com to pull search results for videos accross many more video portals then just Youtube,
- supports pre-listed video-podcast RSS feeds instant playback,
- integrates movie rentals as progressively downloaded video-on-demand, (If the movie bitrate is higher then your available download bandwidth, then you can wait a few minutes before starting to watch the movie while it continues to download to the USB storage)
- can download videos and movies using BitTorrent peer-to-peer technology, you can also add torrents to it from a computer using a web-based interface,
- also has the basic media streamer functionality connecting to DLNA and NAS devices on the local network.
Here is my 15-minute video-review of the device:
HD Flash 1280×720 quality: Youtube HD
During my current testing of this box with its initial pre-loaded firmware, I notice that there currently are a few missing features in my opinion, those could be described as part of my list of initial feature requests and those could possibly be added to the box from the VuNow software team in upcoming firmware updates. I am told that the box does support automatic online firmware upgrades through a main menu popup notification:
- 720p Youtube is not yet available in their interface, (it’d be nice that it automatically display Youtube’s highest available bitrate quality based on the box’s detected available bandwidth)
From the VuNow.com FAQ:
Q. Can I play the new YouTube HD videos on the PoD?
A. No. Not currently. You will be notified when this feature becomes available.
- some other sites then Youtube don’t work yet in the http://vtap.com search results, (It might not yet show a huge amount of video-blog video-podcast RSS feeds and episodes within the http://vtap.com search results)
- WPA WiFi encryption is not yet supported using the WiFi dongle, (only WEP and open access points are supported yet, FON WiFi hotspots are not yet supported because they require a browser login process and the browser is not yet available)
- My USB1 keyboard is not yet supported for text input when searching videos, (but the keyboard is detected, Enter button pauses and resumes video for now. It’d be cool to post Youtube comments using a wireless keyboard. A comments and live chat interface overlay would have a great potential.)
- .mpg, H264 .mp4 720p, DivX .avi 720p from a USB hard drive are not yet working (perhaps I need to activate the “Premium” codecs somewhere in the interface, or perhaps they are not added yet in the firmware. The advertised video resolution support is of 720p but the exact details about which codecs at what bitrates has not been detailed clearly yet within the specifications of the device.)
- NTFS formatted USB hard drives are not yet supported neither to read or to write from,
- when progressively downloading a rented movie, fast forwarding or skiping in the video is not yet possible until the video has been completely downloaded to the USB storage,
- there currently is a thin layer of a few green pixels on the right side of the screen in HDMI output mode on my European PAL LCD HDTV using the VuNow HD box. I will look further if there is something in the settings that I need to change or perhaps VuNow need to fix this in a firmware update.
In my further upcoming testing, I am going to test how BitTorrent is used on this box. How the Box Control feature allows me to add Torrents to the box’s download manager remotely using the web based Interface, if there is some way to add BitTorrent and plain link video RSS feeds to the box and if those can be set to be automatically downloaded in the background with some way to alert on new available episodes and on auto-downloading of new episodes and if there is some way to submit more live web tv stream sources. I will test how it manages NAS storage and if it can use NAS storage to store downloaded video contents.
In my opinion, the VuNow VN1000HD is getting pretty close to having a perfect hardware with the best yet available chipset on the market. That is, if Texas Instruments and Verismo Networks can confirm that this hardware will support Youtube HD, thus 1280×720 resolution H264 video streaming. If it can write downloaded files onto an NTFS formatted USB hard drive, even automatically onto several USB hard drives using a USB Hub or onto writable NAS storage, then I think that it would make things easier then having to use FAT32 or EXT3 formatted hard drives for storage of all those video downloads.
The scenario of users sitting back in their sofas with wireless keyboards and ergonomic remote controls has a huge potential to change the way people spend their 3-4 hours on average each day infront of their TVs, so really, I believe that Verismo Networks needs to optimize the interface experience in the upcoming firmware updates if they want to start a mass market Internet video-on-demand to the TV revolution.
Archos has been working on the same type of autonomous video-on-demand set-top-box solution with the Archos TV+ also using the same technology from Texas Instruments, though Archos provides built-in storage and more features such as video recording which positions Archos at a higher price. The $99 set-top-box price point I believe is really the correct price point which can kick-start a real media consumption revolution in society which I believe will not only decentralize the production of mass media content, it will also improve our democracy and change election results in certain countries such as France, Italy and Denmark where the traditional TV channels have such a huge monopoly on the influence of public opinion during elections. The VuNow solution is the kind of revolution that I am waiting for.