There's a ton of streaming video content on the Web, but I think most of us would agree that it's a more enjoyable experience to watch that content on a TV rather than a computer display. At least that's what Plair Media is hoping with the release of its $99 eponymous video streaming stick.
Set-top boxes like the Roku 3 give you access to hundreds of channels of content, but the Plair is going after a different type of user--the kind who runs a 20-foot HDMI cable from their laptop on the couch to the back of their HDTV.
Using a Chrome plug-in, you can choose video content from the browser on a Mac running OS X 10.6 or later or a Windows PC running XP or later to "send" to your TV. The reason behind the quotation marks is that you're not streaming the content from your computer to the Plair--the way you would with AirPlay and an Apple TV, say--but rather telling a particular website to send the content directly to the Plair. (The company actually uses the word beam, but that's not really right either.) There's also more limited functionality from iOS 4.2 or later- and Android 2.3 or later-running mobile devices, and support for streaming videos and photos directly from your computer or mobile device.
Unfortunately, the Plair isn't quite ready for its close-up. (Note that the product was listed as "available in limited quantities and will ship on a first come first serve basis" when the review was posted.)
The Plair atop an Apple TV for comparison.
To get started, you plug the Plair (available in red, black, or blue) into an HDMI port and connect the power plug to an outlet. The odd shape of the device made it hard to plug into one of the side-positioned HDMI ports on my HDTV while another cable was plugged into the other, and I was forced to plug it into in the bottom port. I could see the shape being a problem on other TVs as well.
Once powered up, the Plair activates a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that you use to configure it. Then you're prompted to choose the PLAIR-H-Default network on your computer or mobile device, and launch either Chrome with the plug-in installed or the iOS or Android app. (Of course, if you haven't already downloaded them, you can't because you're no longer connected to the Internet.)
I tried repeatedly to set up the Plair in the TechHive offices using the Chrome plug-in on my Core i7 MacBook Air and the latest stable version of the browser, but even though the configuration wizard saw the device, it failed to connect to it on every try. Eventually I switched to the iOS app and had better luck. Testing again at home, I was able to finally use the browser for setup after a few tries. The company says mobile devices are more reliable because of how they're designed to look for wireless networks on a constant basis.
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