This is the first product I’ve seen all year that has gotten me this excited. As opposed to other fun toys and gadget, the Belkin @TV. Belkin @TV will literally change the way you watch TV. The Belkin @TV is that good, and I say this having bought and used a Slingbox, the leader in this category, for the past four months.
The Belkin @TV is a device that sits between your Cable box (Comcast in our case) and the TV. It “sees” and “hears” whatever is going through the cable box and sends it via WIFI or ethernet and back out to you and your computer, iPhone, iPad, or other . This is similar to the Slingbox, except in a few critical areas.
1. The Belkin box setup is dead easy. The directions looked simple, but I emotionally steeled myself for a multi-hour fun fest of jumbled wires, tears and an off-hour call to customer support. This was my experience with Slingbox SOLO, which eventually worked, but took a while. The Belkin @TV setup was fast and easy, and when it started up, a mere 23 minutes after I started, I was blown away by its miraculous appearance. It really shouldn’t be this easy since it raises the bar for other like devices. I should mention that I did learn a bit from the Slingbox experience, especially where the cable box IR sensor is.
2. The reception was crystal clear on my iPad and on my computer. WIth the Slingbox, I was used to a grainy, stuttering image figuring that was the price I had to pay for TV on the run. You grin and bear it when you’re 2000 miles from your TV and you’re still able to watch a rerun of Homeland. With the Belkin @TV though, TV is clear and crisp with only minor starts and stops. I know the compression technology for this is changing all the time and the new Slingbox just out may be far better than my personal experience, but the comparison between the Belkin @TV and the Slingbox SOLO is not even close.
I have no knowledge of why the Belkin @TV works, but I have two theories. On the computer, you launch a special @TV app rather than watching the TV in your browser. That likely protects memory resources better than inside a browser. Likewise, an app on a tablet works the same way. I never bought the Slingbox apps for iPad and iPhone because each cost $30 partly because I’m cheap, but mostly because I was insulted that I had bought an incomplete product that didn’t work without add-on costs.
3. Finally, and maybe the most magically, the iPad app for the Belkin @TV is free with purchase of the box. This means that when you set up your Belkin @TV, your first test is with the device you are going to use most to watch: your tablet. And what a love affair it immediately is. As I walked from room to room with my iPad watching a news show, I marveled at how we finally have arrived at what MOBI TV was trying to do 10 years ago. Now with a WIFI connection, you really are untethered not only to TV, but to YOUR TV, which is what we all want. I don’t want to watch whatever’s on; I want to watch what’s in my queue.
With a good WIFI connection, you go outside, you step away when the kids are talking over the news, you might even be tempted to take your @TV with you during private moments. There is just no reason to put your TV on pause anymore. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. But it feels pretty damn cool when you’re doing it. I have to say that with the Slingbox, I never even thought about using it in my own home.
As a side note, Sling Media still charges $14.99 for apps for iPad or iPhone, after cutting prices in half last month. This has to be one of the stupidest marketing decisions ever. I’ve read dozens of reviews by Slingbox owners who basically love the product but are insulted and incensed that they have to pay extra to make the thing work.
Of course, there are some drawbacks. For one, Belkin gives you the app for the iPad, but you have to pay $12.99 for the app for iPhone. This is pretty stupid, but not as stupid as what Slingbox does. Unfortunately, I had trouble setting up the Belkin iPhone app, but did get it sorted out after several calls to customer service and a lengthy process opening up ports on my router and Comcast modem. This apparently is very easy on simpler setups where the opening of ports is done in the background without needing to get under the hood. I’d have to warn users who might have a modem and other firewall that this will be a bit of process if you have to go this route. Once up however, you do get very good images on a 3G network while you’re sitting in the dentist’s office waiting for your kids, which I was doing last night. It sure beats reading old copies of Time.
The @TV’s maximum resolution is 480p, which is standard TV resolution (not HD). On an iPad screen, it looks pretty good, though really finicky viewers may beg to differ. Slingbox’s new Sling Media 350 re-broadcasts to your device at 1080p high def.
Additionally, while the @TV app on the computer uses an image replica of your familiar cable (or other) remote to control your home cable box, on the iPad the remote is less intuitive and hard to use for scrolling through TV guides for current programming. You have to program specific buttons to work in the Belkin remote, which means yet another remote to learn. The experience watching from a computer is better in this regard, since there you are looking at a replica of your familiar cable remote.
Still, I am in love with my Belkin @TV. I’m not watching more TV, but I am watching it in a different way.
GreatDad.com Review Policy: The featured product for this review was provided to us, at no cost, by the manufacturer or representing PR agency for the sole purpose of product testing. We do not accept monetary compensation for reviewing or writing about products. We only review products that we have personally tested and used in our own homes, and all opinions expressed are our own.
We just did a news piece on a study showing that dads with boys tend to spend more time with their kids than dads who only have girls. That’s a sad bit of news, since girls really need daddy time as well. But I don’t want to get off on that tangent. The second part of the story went on to say that this extra “boy time” was spent watching TV together. So, is watching TV really quality time with the kids, or is it something we do and rationalize that at least they were in the room in while you were enjoying the big game, or worse, the most recent episode of CSI.
I’m of two minds about this because my now 7 year old discovered Pro Football two seasons ago when the Vikings were making a run for the playoffs and as a native Minnesotan, I became a fan again for two or three games. My son went on to become a Saint fan, but that’s another story. That season, last season, and now this season, we’ve watched a lot of football. We’ve made Monday night into pizza night and we’ve shelved a lot of Sunday afternoon activities so we can watch some ball. Anyone who watches football as a group activity knows it’s not a passive endeavor. It’s not like golf. If your heart isn’t pumping and you’re not cheering of someone, you might as well turn it off. My son now knows a lot of the lingo and, while he isn’t yet talking trash, he does some color commentary along the way.
At the same time, my wife started watching “White Collar” with our daughter late last summer. The show, positively rated for tweens, is more passive entertainment as is typical of weekday TV fare. You watch “together,” laugh “together,” but it’s not quite participatory until the debriefs during commercials or after the show. They enjoy it immensely, however.
You can tell already what my opinion is on the difference between the two types of TV as a family activity.
We don’t watch a lot of TV at home, and during the school year, the rule is no TV or video games during the week, though that rule is broken from time to time when homework is done and piano practice has been accomplished and parents are also looking for a break. It’s in these times, that I’d prefer to break out a board game or even play family Wii together. But is TV a good activity for a family? Is it a bonding event?
My perspective, despite a recent GreatDad news piece on TV as a nurturing tool, is “no.” In a general sense, spending time together doing something is “good.” You do remember peaceful scenes of the family together eating popcorn. However, rare are memories of the night in 1983 when you all watched that one episode of “St. Elsewhere.” TV just isn’t that memorable, except when it’s a news event that brings us all together in a common experience. I watched TV all day on 9/11 and was very glad I had family around to do it with – they are part of my 9/11 memory.
Are there exceptions to this? Yes, of course. I remember watching Marx Brothers movies with my kids, and expect that they will remember them as well. I remember watching “Casablanca” with my daughter because we still quote lines and reference it together. The “classics,” whatever they are, will still be classics and do transcend regular TV watching. Will people care 10 years from now what was on “ER,” or how “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” took over our lives for brief moments in time. I doubt it.
But back to sports. Is football good time spent with your son? Likely not as good as actually tossing him one in the backyard for an hour, but compared to a lot of other things on TV, it’s perhaps a hair better than most.
What do you think?
As a lazy dad who believes that the invention of the remote control is truly proof of God’s existence and New Testament beneficence, we had to try the Griffin Beacon. Griffin Beacon, using technology from Dijit, turns your iPhone or iPad into a universal remote control.
This is a trick that is harder than you might imagine. Griffin had to create a piece of hardware that sits in your living room and needs to pair with your phone over Bluetooth. The Beacon has all major hardware codes within it, allowing your phone to talk to the DVD player, PVR, TV, Cable box without an IR transmitter.
In practice, the Beacon works pretty well, though you might not want to throw out your main remote quite yet. In our experience, we found it a bit cumbersome on the small iPhone screen and while we liked having a universal remote, we gravitated back to our simple Comcast remote for ease of use.
Additionally, sexy features like a functionality to view our Netflix queue, still don’t yet integrate with actually viewing movies on the device or controlling the Netflix feature on our devices.
Still, Griffin is onto something here with their partner app developer, Dijit. Clearly, this app gives us all a taste of Dijit technology is in development and future updates will make the app far stronger, especially when it runs on iPad with more screen space.
Set up after you get the Bluetooth pairing down is very intuitive, making adding components a snap
Online program guide is good and future iterations will allow complete integration with social media. This is just the beginning for Dijit and Griffin.
You’ve got one more little device (the Beacon) on your coffee table, and while unobtrusive, it’s another piece of clutter
The Beacon uses batteries which will need to be replaced under heavy use
You have to click the Beacon if you change devices, say to your wife’s phone or to the iPad
Our recommendation: Postpone purchase until you download the app and see what you are actually getting since the sizzle may pull you in before you understand the current limits. Even so, we think this technology has legs for the near future.
Griffin Beacon Specs
This is really bad news for couch potatoes, as well as the rest of us who have desk jobs, but still cram in workouts to make sure we stay fit and healthy. Now studies show that it’s all for nought, and not even the most dedicated among us are immune to the negative affects of a sedentary lifestyle. This is more reason to get out and do things with your kids as an ongoing habit, and to teach them never to get into the TV habit. This is easier said than done. As for me, it sounds like I can just about hang it up, after a career mostly sitting at a desk and in front of a screen, especially if the workouts don’t make a difference.
The latest findings, published this week in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicate that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.
The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less. Those who spent four or more hours of recreational time in front of a screen were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause. It didn’t matter whether the men were physically active for several hours a week — exercise didn’t mitigate the risk associated with the high amount of sedentary screen time.
The study is not the first to suggest that sedentary activities like television viewing may be harmful. A study last year found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars were more likely to die of heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less, even if they exercised. And a 2009 study reported that young children who watch one and a half to five and a half hours of TV a day have higher blood pressure readings than those who watch less than half an hour, even if they are thin and physically active.
Giacaomo Knox is launching a new web show and trying to sell the pilot for A Week With My Father, a new show that explores reunions between dads and sons. It’s an interesting idea, and underscores the importance of the father/child bond.
The first episode features Knox reuniting with his father after 33 years apart. The next episode, already in the Development stage, will reunite a former NBA great who came back from a stroke, and his father.
Check it out in this excerpt and the whole show at: aweekwithmyfather.com.