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Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the makers of media streamers are churning up a froth in the market for one simple reason: opportunity. Streaming video is all the rage as these manufacturers struggle to create the next big thing in video. Apple retooled its “hobby,” removing Apple TV’s onboard storage and making it a streaming-only device. And companies ranging from Boxee to Google are hoping their streaming solutions emerge victorious. Orb TV is fairly new to the video game, and its puck-shaped device also pipes video (or music) to your TV. But unlike the competition, Orb has an ace in the hole—free Hulu.
Further distancing itself from more complicated devices, the Orb itself has no interface to speak of. To use it, you’ll have to install Orb Caster software on a networked Mac. You’ll also need an iPhone, iPod touch, or Android phone because all of Orb’s controls are operated via a companion app. Controlling your Orb via an iOS device is neat, although since you have to run a Mac to serve video anyway, we wish there were controls in the desktop software itself.
After plugging the Orb into your Mac for a guided setup, you’ll connect it to your TV via the included composite or component video cables (as well as RCA cables for audio). Yes folks, that means there’s no HD output. Which, to be frank, makes the Orb pretty last-gen.
With everything connected, the Orb software on your Mac broadcasts video to the Orb unit. You can even connect multiple Orbs to different TVs in your house and choose where to send video on the fly. Besides giving you access to your (DRM-free) video library from the sofa, the Orb also works with free Hulu accounts since it’s restreaming video that gets sent to your Mac. All the other devices that stream Hulu to your TV require a $7.99 per month Hulu Plus account. All that streaming and restreaming means the video quality can take a hit, but it’s fine for casual viewing, and it’s not like you’re watching in HD anyway. Orb also supports Netflix, YouTube, Comedy Central, and a few other sites, giving you a fairly wide selection of online video to choose from.
The bottom line. Orb TV doesn’t have the slickest control interface, and you have to have a substantial investment in other hardware to make the system work. But then again, it’s one of the only ways to get free Hulu content on your TV.
2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or faster, Mac OS 10.5.1 or later, USB 2.0 port, 802.11g or n Wi-Fi network
Compact. Simple setup. Brings free Hulu content to your TV.
No HD output. Requires a running Mac to serve content and a mobile device to control playback. No control interface on the Mac.