Performance and features
We should also note that Orb TV is different from Orb Live, the system that allows smartphones to access live TV and other media from anywhere on their mobile devices.
The MP-1 gave us great-sounding audio streaming, but it's a much taller order for a video streamer to provide the same sort of consistent quality. That being said, we had mixed results while getting content to our HDTV from our source MacBook Pro.
In addition to any media you might have stored on your source computer, Orb TV provides access to a number of third-party services including Hulu, ESPN3, Netflix, YouTube, and Comedy Central.
When using the Orb Controller, we were surprised to see that not all of the mentioned items above had fixed menu locations. Instead, the user must search within the correct category to see whether specific content is being hosted by any of the services Orb is plugged into. This setup certainly isn't ideal as it essentially removes the ability to browse. Also, during playback, there doesn't seem to be any options in regards to changing aspect ratios. You'll mostly have to control this manually via your HDTV.
In terms of actual image quality, we were definitely unimpressed. A healthy amount of artifacting and noise littered the screen during each video playback attempt.
Using our Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 netted us a small jump in the overall experience, but stream quality remained mediocre, even when playing items located on the source computer.
Software and mobile access
Accessing all of this content from your mobile phone isn't exactly the most practical of implementations, but it does get the job done. We found that both platforms (iOS and Android) performed well, though your Android mileage may vary depending on the specs of the phone you have. Though phone type didn't really seem to matter when testing the MP-1 music player, it definitely becomes a factor to consider when streaming video. In our individual test, our HTC Evo handled the streaming video well. Our iPod Touch equaled the Evo's performance, as well.
Regardless of the platform, we did experience some lag while navigating through our media library. Also, the time between hitting play on your controller and getting an actual picture onscreen took up to 45 seconds in some cases. Like we mentioned earlier, the overall stream quality can't compete with other home network HD-streaming devices like the WD TV Live Hub or a dedicated NAS storage solution.
Overall, Orb TV didn't impress us nearly as much as the Orb Music Player did. By today's standards, its streaming functionality and capabilities are behind the times, and we just don't think its performance warrants a purchase by anyone who wants to get serious about an alternative content delivery system.
That said, its $99 price point is certainly attractive and may be suitable for very basic streaming needs, but we'd definitely recommend something like the WD TV Live Hub instead. Not only can it outperform the Orb TV in almost every way (including 1080p HD playback), it comes with a whopping 1TB internal drive that users can easily store media on directly. For just $99 more, the Live Hub seems like a much better overall value.
Of course if Orb does in fact update the Controller and Caster software, we will update this review accordingly and document if any of the changes improve video quality or the smartphone controller experience.
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