Pogoplug (2nd generation) review: Pogoplug (2nd generation)

However, in our home usage it worked with major reservations. First, setup wasn't intuitive. For some odd reason, Pogoplug-connected hard drives aren't automatically ready to stream--you have to check off a box in "media settings" on the my.pogoplug.com Web site to activate. We then had to access independent message boards and discussions to figure out how to activate the 360's drive recognition, which didn't kick in automatically on our system (we had to download a 360 plug-in first and then restart). When it finally did work, the drive showed up under the Video Library blade of the dashboard. Clicking on the Pogoplug, however, opened up a list-style system of browsing files that was inefficient. For videos, a list of more than 1,000 files stretched out with only confusing file names to identify them, with no capability to search or preview before playing. Photos worked the same way. Testing which videos could stream and which couldn't was a trial-and-error affair. MP4 files worked fine, but DRM'ed iTunes shows, unsurprisingly, didn't play. For music, a slightly friendlier browser for albums, songs, and artists, along with visualizer, appeared--the same interface you'd see if you connected an iPod, Zune, or external drive. The same "playlist problem" of browsing thousands of songs remained.

The PS3 recognized the Pogoplug more effortlessly, showing up clearly as an icon under the Videos, Photos, and Music lists in the Media Bar. Clicking it brings up a list of Music, Videos, and Photos folders that Pogoplug sets up for converted video files (it will convert noncompatible formats, according to Pogoplug, but our experience with it was mixed). Or, alternatively, you can browse the drive by file folder and pull up lists of files, resulting in the same trial-and-error playback.

For both the Xbox 360 and PS3, even when videos could play, they stuttered and were prone to pausing midstream. The experience is hardly newbie-friendly, and isn't a good system for storing and playing shows and home movies, either. Photos and music do play well, but slideshows and file browsing are a pain. Also, on both consoles the list of media files didn't appear immediately; a file directory queues up after a painful delay, which on our connected Seagate hard drive took so long that we wondered if it would work at all.

Active Copy is Pogoplug's method of copying important files to multiple drives, but both drives need to be connected to the Pogoplug in order to work.

Active Copy is another great idea, in theory: with four USB ports to connect to, the Pogoplug can act as a redundant system for backing up important files. Unfortunately, the Pogoplug won't actively copy any files that aren't in a drive directly plugged into it. In a nutshell, this means no Time Machine-style backups of your computer. However, selecting a folder on one connected drive will enable backups to be made whenever files are added or changed to the original, which would be useful for an external photo collection. Files did copy over from one selected drive folder to another, but not immediately. It's debatable how much we'd really use or trust this system for copying valuable data.

On a positive note, we have to credit Pogoplug's compatibility with the iPad's Safari Web browser. Pogoplug has a media setting allowing you to select the autoencoding of movie and video files to HTML5 playback, and loading up my.pogoplug.com on the iPad brought up a clean but slightly difficult-to-browse version of the standard Web site interface (the folder window needs to be scrolled through with two fingers instead of one, which isn't explained). Video files, however, did play back when tapped: some played immediately in surprisingly strong resolution (MP4s, generally), whereas others played a brief 10-second preview and claimed the rest needed to be converted and queued. It was never clear how to find and play files once they'd been converted, and we imagine few users will have the patience to figure it out. Still, the Pogoplug seems like a very viable solution to iPad users looking to store and browse content without needing to have a powered-up PC to stream from.

Video streaming from the Pogoplug to the iPad is a great idea in theory, and when it worked locally it was awesome--but some files needed HTML5 transcoding or were slow to stream.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Pogoplug, but to be honest, we expected more in its second iteration. We forgave a somewhat clunky browser and smartphone interface the first time, simply because what the Pogoplug could accomplish outweighed the inconveniences. This time, we feel the odd methods of downloading and viewing files more acutely, and wish that video somehow streamed more smoothly from afar--a dream, perhaps, but one the Pogoplug still seems to be promising to consumers. Even in the same living room, streaming video files via a Pogoplug-connected drive to an Xbox 360 was hardly an enjoyable affair.

Since the Pogoplug's launch, there have been other solutions to the same challenge of streaming video to your home TV. Intel's Wireless Display provides a quick and easy way to stream video files and Web shows to a TV, and though only a few laptops have Wi-Di at the moment, it's a more elegant and easy-to-use solution for media than the Pogoplug 2. There's also software that facilitates streaming from Macs and PCs to the Xbox 360 and PS3, although these require a powered-on computer to work. More robustNAS devices also offer a variety of media sharing and streaming options (though most of them have a much steeper learning curve than the Pogoplug does).

In the end, we'd recommend Pogoplug more as a method to connect and share content from hard drives over the Internet than as a solution for home video streaming. Its capability to essentially create an ad-hoc home server from spare USB hard drives remains unique, but it still seems less elegant, and perhaps even a bit jerry-rigged, compared with investing in a wireless home server. Next time, we hope the company approaches the equation from an ease-of-use perspective, rather than shoehorning in features that don't even work that well. And we'd also like to see a return to Pogoplug's earlier, more compact--and less colorful--chassis.

Editors' note: We consider the Cloud Engines Pogoplug an accessory and therefore didn't put it through the same testing process as standard NAS servers.

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