LAS VEGAS--A new gadget from Aluratek takes the idea of an Internet-enabled TV and ramps it up a few notches.
Being demonstrated this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the new device lets you use your TV as a full computer with the ability to surf any Web site. The device is so new that it doesn't yet have an official name. The working title is Plug PC, but that may change based in part on the response it gets from the crowds at CES.
How does it work? Plug PC contains an embedded copy of Ubuntu Linux. Just connect it to your TV via an HDMI cable, and the operating system fires up. You can run a host of local programs, from e-mail to slideshows to music and video players. You can also download apps from a dedicated app store. But the real appeal is the ability to surf any Web site.
The Linux desktop offers icons to popular sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu. Aluratek is also working on access to Netflix. But unlike some Internet TV devices and service, Plug PC lets you browse the entire Web, so you're not limited where you can go or what you can see.
You can leave Plug PC running all the time--the Aluratek people tell me it costs only $13 a year in energy consumption. Using your TV's remote, you can easily switch your source between TV and Plug PC.
Powered by a 1GHz processor, Plug PC includes 1 gigabyte of RAM, an Ethernet port, built-in Wi-Fi, and built-in Bluetooth. To store downloaded content, the device offers 4 gigabytes of internal storage, three USB ports, an SD card slot, and a built-in eSATA slot. The device also comes with a mini keyboard with a built-in trackball, so you can navigate the Web fairly easily.
Plug PC seems like a promising alternative to other solutions. When I'm in my living room, I hop onto the Internet through a Mac Mini hooked up to my HDTV. Not a bad solution, but it means I need to power up the Mac anytime I want to access the Internet. So I like the convenience of a device that gives me full Internet access but doesn't need to boot up each time.
Aluratek says the device is supposed to launch on March 1, at which point it'll sell for $199.99.