Toshiba's upcoming Places service lets you watch video (including BBC iPlayer), listen to music and share your own photos and video on Tosh's TVs or in a browser on your PC, all via one login. It's pretty late to the party, with most other manufacturers already selling Web-enabled TVs, and there few notable partners for UK users, but we've gone hands-on with the new service nevertheless.
Here's how Places works. Once you sign up, you can access the available videos on pretty much any device that has a browser -- so any computer or laptop, and most tablets. Its cleverest features is that if you pause a video on one device you can resume on another.
Naturally, Toshiba's making Places available via a dedicated app on its Regza TVs, specifically the UL, SL, VL, WL and YL series of tellies. (You can read more about the VL series in our in-depth preview.)
The PC browser interface is very different to the dedicated Regza app you'll get on Tosh tellies. The TV version of the interface is pretty simple, and reminiscent of the iTunes Cover Flow system. Various options are tiled in a horizontal row for your perusal, and you simply hit your remote's enter button in the middle to confirm your selection. You've got various apps for TV, music, social networking and online video at your disposal.
We found Places on a Toshiba TV to be sluggish, and not too intuitive. Once we'd made a selection, for instance, it was quite hard to navigate back to the main menu, especially if we'd launched one of the actual apps. We were using Places over a slightly iffy Web connection though, so we'll wait for a longer hands-on session before dragging it over the coals too much.
Happily, the PC version (which you can see above by clicking through our pictures) is much simpler, and is easy to navigate, borrowing heavily from streaming services like Last.fm in its presentation.
'Virtual bookmarks' mean you can start a movie streaming on your laptop, and pick it up where you left off on your TV. This is possible because Places uses one login across multiple devices, so it always knows where you're up to. We didn't get much chance to test this, but we're keen to see how well it performs, and how useful it ultimately proves.
Toshiba probably isn't the first company that springs to mind when you think of online video, and it's going to have an uphill battle making people aware of Places, especially with such a generic name. Any video service lives and dies on the strength of its content, and we're thoroughly underwhelmed by the partners that have signed up thus far -- it doesn't even have YouTube.
In the UK they include Box Office 365 (no, we haven't heard of it either -- all we could find online is this slightly baffling corporate blog -- but apparently it houses movies), and Turner Broadcasting channels such as the Cartoon Network. Content from these providers will be available on subscription, or via pay-per-view, so it won't be free.
On the music side, things will be powered by 7digital, so we'd expect a pretty huge selection of MP3s available to stream and download to your PC -- but not your TV, which will have to make do with Internet radio and some podcasts.
The 'TV Place' tile will include TV guides and BBC iPlayer, which is an ace service, but one that's already available on almost every new TV under the sun. We don't know if the bookmarks system will work with it -- we couldn't test it.
We're told there will be games and apps available to download too, via 'Game Place' and (you guessed it) 'App Place' respectively, both of which are only available when you access Places from a PC, not a TV. The 'Social Place' lets you upload photos and movies to Flickr and DailyMotion on your PC, share them with friends and watch them on your telly.
Basically, Toshiba wants to be the go-to place for all your video, music, apps and games. Based on what we've seen, it's a promising interface, but while we love the idea of a single content service to rule them all, we're not at all convinced that the videos, apps, games and music offering is going to be broad enough to prise us away from services such as Sky Player or Spotify.
Still, it's early days, so we'll wait and see whether other partners can be persuaded to board the Good Ship Toshiba in the run-up to Places' launch. It's already miles behind Sony, for example, which offers LoveFilm and YouTube, but to be fair most of these TV Web portals are pretty basic.
Places goes live across Europe in the next few months.