Cisco's FlipShare TV Lets You Watch Your Videos on TV
Monday, December 7, 2009; 12:19 AM
Cisco's pocket-size Flip Video camcorder line achieved widespread popularity by making the process of capturing video and posting it to YouTube incredibly easy. Now, a companion set-top box seeks to make viewing those videos--either your own or those shared over the Internet on Flip's FlipChannel service--on your HDTV almost equally effortless. But while the Cisco FlipShare TV ($149 as of 12/1/09) can capably stream high-definition video from your hard drive, the quality of videos hosted online can vary widely. That's because the FlipShare TV streams all of its video from your PC through a peer-to-peer 802.11n Wi-Fi connection using an included, oversize USB dongle--and Internet video must first stream to the PC. This two-step process can easily introduce artifacts, especially if your PC's network connection is also wireless.
To set up the FlipShare TV, you start by attaching the USB dongle to your PC; the dongle then initiates an upgrade to the FlipShare software that all Flip camcorders install when you first connect them via their pop-up USB connector. Once the updated PC software and the drivers for the dongle are installed, you connect the small, white FlipShare TV box to your TV set, through its composite-video or HDMI ports. (The FlipShare TV comes with a composite-video cable, but if you want the superior image and sound quality that HDMI can deliver, you must provide your own HDMI cable.)
When you plug in the box's AC adapter, a simple user interface appears on the TV set and lets you know when the box is communicating with the FlipShare software on your PC. In my tests I had to reboot the box (by disconnecting and reconnecting the AC adapter) before the confirmation messages appeared (on both the set and the PC software).
The FlipShare TV's included remote, about the size of a current iPod Nano, lets you control video selection and playback using four navigation arrows and a select button. A menu button brings up your video-source options: clips you've stored on your hard drive, videos that other users have made available to you by way of the FlipChannel feature (a sort of private YouTube alternative introduced last summer), and favorites that you can draw from either source.
To create your own FlipChannel or to view other people's videos, you must create a FlipShare account via the PC software; the service is free.
I was impressed with the quality of the video and audio that the FlipShare TV streamed from my laptop's hard drive to my 1080p plasma HDTV. Colors were pleasingly bright, motion video was smooth, and voices and music picked up on the microphone sounded great. However, videos on a FlipChannel did not look as good, probably because of the additional network hops required to transmit the stream to my Wi-Fi-connected laptop and then to the FlipShare TV. I encountered stuttering and loss of audio in my tests--the same sorts of problems I've experienced trying to stream other Internet video services through my notebook to a TV.
I'd be cautious about recommending the FlipShare TV to people who are primarily interested in viewing FlipChannel content over a Wi-Fi-connected PC, especially in a crowded environment where many Wi-Fi networks may be battling for limited bandwidth. But for Flip-camcorder fans who are willing to pay handsomely to view their own videos on a big screen (or for people whose PCs are on a wired network), the FlipShare TV does the job quite well.