Over the past couple of years I’ve acquired a number of different devices, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Each of them had or has a certain gadgety coolness factor, but each is more remarkable for its incompleteness and lack of interoperability with the others, which is how I ended up with a so many of them.
Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-Ray
I forget which device came first but I’ll start with the Blu-Ray player. I have the Samsung BD-P1500, which was one of the early models that played DVD, Blu-Ray and also offered Netflix and Pandora. This was a pretty good start on integration, getting Netflix streaming without needing another device is ideal. The only real complaint is that it doesn’t allow you to search for movies from the Blu-Ray interface, you have to queue them up using the website.
But what about all my music, videos and pictures on my PC can I access those from by TV? Not with my Blu-Ray player, but the Directv HR24 HD DVR is capable of streaming music, videos and pictures from my PC using Media Share and windows media center. Unfortunately, its completely unreliable. Most content won’t play and usually causes the DVR’s Media Share service to hang. TVersity is better, although only some old hard to find version of the software will work, so I can’t ever upgrade it. Nevertheless is provides transcoding and therefore I can get most media to play, albeit via a clunky and rudimentary interface.
How about media on the go? In the car I had the Garmin 760, which is not only a capable GPS but offered MP3, Audiobook playback, and Bluetooth for hands free calling. The GPS is great, other than searching for an address or location which takes an ungodly amount of time. The MP3 player is very basic, the Audiobooks are pretty cool as it integrates nicely with Audible.com. The drawback is the Garmin’s audio. MP3’s aren’t worth listening too, and the hands free calling via Bluetooth is so poor as to be worthless. It does have a headphone jack which might overcome some of these deficiencies if my car stereo had a audio aux port, which it didn’t. Not to mention manually copying files via USB is a bit cumbersome. Yet it served me well for GPS, and Audiobooks for quite some time.
My wife has an iPod Touch, which has the nice sync features with iTunes, but also suffers from the painful iTunes lock in, where none of her media is playable on my other devices. Nevertheless, she does have the audio aux port in her car and thus its worked nicely for her. The other huge advantage of Apple products is, due to there MP3 player monopoly, AV Receivers, Car stereos and other electronics have specific integration that devices on other platforms just don’t have. I’ll talk about those in a bit.
We have a Wii, which you’d think would have the ability to be an integration media hub, but alas it isn’t. First off it inexplicably doesn’t play DVD, forget about Blu-Ray because it isn’t high def. It doesn’t have the capacity to integrate with windows media center or TVersity. Although, because it has a browser you can jump through some hoops and get it to play media. One thing it does have going for it is the Netflix app. It gives full browsable access to Netflix as well as the ability to play content directly on the Wii, in standard def. of course.
The droid has a lot of features, it plays music, audiobooks, podcasts, email, camera, bluetooth, Pandora, just got Netflix, and so on. What it lacks is iTunes like convenient sync features. Getting media on and off the device is via USB drag and drop, and the USB connection requires a tedious couple of menu’s every time you hook it up. I also used it to tether to my laptop while traveling once or twice which was nice. My biggest complaint is the email application. Its plain awful. I suppose if I wanted to shift my email, calendar and contacts over to Gmail it may have been a different story, but I resent the fact that my phone is dictating which services I use. So I resist, and continue to try and use hotmail. There is no calendar and contact integration, and the email application needs to be forcibly stopped and restarted at least daily or it gets hung and just spins and spins.
The Kindle is definitely well built, compact and easy to use. Where other devices are hard to read in different types of light, the kindle excels. If you’re reading paperback novels then the kindle ,and electronic ink, is the obvious answer. It lacks a touch screen and has a physical rather than virtual keyboard. That makes the screen smaller than it could be, and a little less natural for turning pages than others but not a big deal. Where it really falls down is with PDF’s and color. If you want to read a PDF the experience is not great, and if you’re reading something with charts, graphs, things that require color, you can forget it. But that’s ok, because where the kindle really shines is that it has accomplished cross device integration. There’s an app for the PC, Mac, Droid, iPod, iPad, windows phone, etc. Some of which handle color and/or touch and they’re all kept in sync. You can start reading on the kindle, read a little on the droid, then pick up in the right spot on your PC.
There’s not a lot of of difference between the iPod and iPad except for screen size. But that kind of makes a big difference in a couple of situations. It makes the iPad a much more practical media device, for playing movies, reading books, and playing games. Again you can play Netflix, HBO GO, iTunes, iBooks, Kindle etc. For me, it’s a portable streaming TV. The other area where screen size matters is that the virtual keyboard is actually usable, unlike iPods and smartphones, you can actually kind of type on the big full keys. It has a lot of the same advantages and disadvantages of the iPod. Many devices are already built to integrate with it, but you’re also locked into iTunes. My windows media center and tversity are equally unavailable to it. I could switch from using iTunes for all media, and that’s becoming more practical with the recent introduction of Home sharing.
Window Phone 7 (HTC Trophy)
I’ve been waiting a long time for the windows phone, primarily because I assumed because it was a Microsoft device it would offer better integration with my hotmail, calendar and contacts, as well as better sync-ing using Zune. There’s nothing special about the device itself, its all about the WP7 OS. Having used the Droid for a year and a half, WP7 seems like a pretty big improvement. Email integration works super smooth, I even hooked up my Gmail account (required by the Droid) and that worked smooth too. I set up my phone to sync with my PC wirelessly via Zune. It syncs music, photos, videos and podcasts automatically. It also offers the ability to watch Netflix, and read kindle books.
Denon AVR 1911
The center of my home entertainment system in the AV receiver that everything is routed through before going to the TV. I only mention this device because of its built in support for iPod. Further, with an hdmi adapter, you can hook up the iPad to it as well. Something droids, windows phones, can’t do.
I recently replaced my factory car stereo with the jvc. It offers Navigation (so I no longer need the garmin), plays CD, DVD, has audio input, USB (again for the iPod/iPad) and bluetooth. The bluetooth is the killer feature. Not only for the phone, which is nicer because it has a microphone, but for the streaming audio. I can wirelessly stream music, podcasts and audiobooks from Droid or WP7, offering basic control from the onscreen menu.
Ok, so what’s the point of all this?
Basically to point out the obvious. It would be nice to have a handful of devices that integrate very well while offering all the features you want. Play CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix, other streaming services, games, phone, eBooks, access your own pictures, home movies, music collection. If you pick the right stack you get pretty close today, but once you mix and match suddenly you end up with a multitude of specialty devices.
I don’t own an XBox, but I suspect that with a windows Phone, Zune, and an XBox I could get most of the way there, of course giving up on the Wii games and Blu-ray playback. Blu-ray being the biggest shame, if XBox offered that I could eliminate another device entirely.
With an AppleTV, iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes and maybe a few other apple products I could probably build an equally integrated media solution with a relatively low number of devices.
I’m not sure if such a solution would be available with GoogleTV and Android, or PS3 based.