San Jose (24hoursnews) - Sandisk, best known for its USB flash drives and low-cost MP3 players, has announced that its next project will be a portable media hub that users can use to transfer video from a PC to a TV.
Now that the wireless and streaming media extender market is starting to take root, SanDisk has a thought: "What's so great about wireless?" The company is taking a different, simpler approach to getting your PC's video content onto your television: a USB drive that plugs into a dock that connects to your television. And loading the device is as simple as dragging and dropping files onto the drive. Forget about HD content, surround (or even 2.1-channel) sound, or a ton of storage space. The TakeTV is pretty inexpensive, though-$100 for 4G of storage and $150 for 8GB-compared with Apple TV's entry-level price of $300. For those who don't do iTunes (or even those who like the selection at Fanfare.com, SanDisk's source for video content), the TakeTV is a cheap, simple, and quick way to get content from your PC to your TV.
TakeTV's minimalist design won't blow your mind, but it won't eat up a lot of desk or table space, either. When the removable USB drive is plugged into the powered dock (which connects via cables to your television), the unit is roughly 5.6 by 1.5 by 0.5 inches. With the kickstand on the dock down-essential if you want your remote control to work-the unit's 0.5-inch depth becomes about 1.5 inches. Also included is a power adapter for the dock and a hardwired audio/video cable that sends sound and images from the dock to your TV (and/or stereo receiver). Not only is the cable pretty short (it's no easy feat connecting one end of the cable to your TV and the other to your stereo receiver since they spring from the same outlet on the dock), but it doesn't support surround (or even 2.1-channel) sound. It's simply left and right channels, so a lot of the rumble and audio ado in movie and television mixes is lost. A simple digital optical out would have fixed that. For video, there are S-Video and composite-out connectors.
The remote is oddly shaped, but works well, despite the cheap-feeling membrane buttons. A large Play button dominates the top of the remote. Below that are smaller buttons for menu navigation, power, video information, screen set-up, subtitle control, and viewing mode (that is, pan and scan, fill screen, or letterbox). There's also an onscreen menu, where you can change items as granular as subtitle font type. For the most part, I found menu and remote navigation straightforward. The interface isn't beautiful, but it's executed well enough that you won't embarrass yourself scrolling endlessly through menus when friends are over.
TakeTV supports DivX, Xvid, and MPEG-4 video files. The device is Vista and XP compatible-there's no support for Macs here. It's a breeze to load the drive with video content from your PC. Just drag and drop files as you would with any other USB drive, then attach the drive to the dock connected to your TV, and you're set. Given that, I was surprised that I couldn't load music or photos onto the drive and play them on my TV/stereo system (it is, after all, a USB drive). SanDisk has hinted that this functionality is in the works for sometime in the future.
Getting content from Fanfare.com, SanDisk's video content site, is also simple. You just need to create a log-in and password on the site (it's free.) Once you've done this, every time you plug in the TakeTV's USB drive, Fanfare.com launches. The selection at Fanfare is pretty limited right now, but the site is still in beta. Currently, users can download TV shows for free from Showtime and CBS like Dexter and CSI: Miami, as well as download content from TV Guide, The Weather Channel, and Smithsonian Networks. Eventually, premium offerings from Showtime will go for $1.99 or more, or users can choose free content that will feature advertisements. Until Fanfare expands its content, the service is merely a bonus. That said, the quality of the available clips on Fanfare, though not HD, is certainly watchable. TakeTV's playback resolution is 720 by 576. Transfer time for the videos from Fanfare is fairly quick, but obviously the more content you download at one time or the slower your connection, the longer things take-you can expect transfer times comparable with those from the iTunes Store. If SanDisk does manage to expand its video collection, the site could be an attractive alternative to iTunes and Amazon's Unbox.
TakeTV is an easy way to grab the tons of BitTorrent files, er, video content from your PC to watch on your TV. Sure, the omission of 2.1-channel-or-better audio connections is a letdown. But the lack of wireless streaming isn't that much of a bummer. Wireless video streaming can be affected by network hiccups and bandwidth issues, and transferring files wirelessly isn't always speedy. Plus, the device is affordable, and that alone, considering it works so well, makes TakeTV worth checking out.
For tech support, call SanDisk at 1-866-SanDisk (1-866-726-3475), or fill out an on-line support
request at http://www.sandisk.com/retail/support.asp.