Keith vs. the Vulkano

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The scoop: Vulkano Deluxe Pro (500G), by Monsoon Multimedia, about $380

What it is: The Vulkano series of multimedia devices aim to be several different Internet-connected, home entertainment, streaming TV devices built into one small device. It wants to act like a Slingbox that can stream live TV to different devices, such as a PC, an iPad or iPhone (or other mobile phone). It wants to be a DVR that can record TV shows to an attached storage drive. It wants to be a network streaming device that lets you watch YouTube videos, home videos, display photos and stream music across your home network. The device sits between your cable box and TV, and includes a Wi-Fi connection or Ethernet port for connecting to the home network. The Deluxe Pro 500G unit that was sent to us included a 500GB hard drive that attached via eSATA cable, which was to be used as the DVR. The company also sells a model with a 16GB SD card for a lower price.

A whole lot of caveats: I had some reservations about the product when it was sent to us for review. After getting the first unit, I was told by the company to send that one back, as they were updating the software and shipping out new units. After the second unit arrived, I was asked that before hooking up the device, that I do a hardware reset that involved pressing two reset buttons and waiting for a green light to appear before connecting the cables. Unfortunately, I never got past this part, as the green light on the unit never appeared. Calling the technical support line at Monsoon Multimedia, I was on hold for more than 30 minutes, and nobody ever answered the phone (I was well within the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT calling window touted on their Web site).

Even if I didn't have a faulty box, I have some reservations about the all-in-one nature and features of this box. First, there's no HDMI input port - in order to have the device act like a Slingbox, you have to use component out cables to the Vulkano, then you can connect an HDMI cable into the TV. Since I already go HDMI out from my cable box to the TV, moving to a component output (which required two separate video and audio cables) was annoying.

Second, there's already several other devices in the market that perform the same functionality of the Vulkano. The aforementioned Slingbox, plus Internet streaming devices such as those from Roku, Seagate, D-Link and others, offer connections to streaming Internet TV services (and more than just YouTube). For streaming to mobile devices, there's the new version of Apple TV. And all of those boxes power up correctly when you plug in the device.

This market is getting very competitive - with big names like Apple and Google now in the multimedia set-top box and Internet TV space, it's not a great sign for a smaller company like Monsoon Multimedia to have a box that isn't ready for the market. There may be something here down the road - something that can stream your TV out across the Internet, as well as access Internet TV and your own multimedia files, but at the moment the Vulkano is not that product.

Grade: 1 star (out of five)

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/shawkeith

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This story, "Keith vs. the Vulkano" was originally published by Network World.

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