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Orb TV (VP-1) review: Orb TV (VP-1)

Orb TV (VP-1)

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
5 min read

When Orb showed us the MP-1 music player, we were impressed with its ability to wirelessly stream music from a PC or Mac and then play it on an AV receiver or even our iPhone or Android device using a home network as the backbone.

Orb VP-1 TV

Orb TV (VP-1)

The Good

Streams audio and video from a source computer to HDTV or AV receiver; simple setup; access to other media hubs like Hulu, ESPN3, Netflix, and more; supports Android and iOS platforms.

The Bad

No HDMI out; lackluster streaming-video quality; no native video player app for source device; Orb Controller limits use to Android or iOS platforms; no way to change aspect playback; crippled video navigation and browsing functionality.

The Bottom Line

Orb TV works as advertised and is attractively priced, but those quality-conscious consumers who demand the highest video-streaming performance may want to look elsewhere.

The company's VP-1 video player is much more ambitious of a device, boasting a feature set that includes the wireless transmission of video to an HDTV. We've put the Orb TV through its paces, and though it does work as advertised, the overall streaming-video quality does leave something to be desired. But for $99, we're not sure there's an easier streaming-plus-media server hybrid device out on the market, we just think you may be better off with some more-advanced products.

Like the MP-1, the VP-1 is a similarly shaped disc-size device that hooks into the component or composite inputs on your HDTV. Of course we'd recommend using component where possible, but it's nice that Orb included everything you'll need (including power and video breakout cables) in the box.

Other than the actual Orb unit, there really isn't anything else to discuss in terms of physical design. Also included in the box is a USB cable and AC adapter.

We were very pleased with the Orb TV's ease-of-use factor, as we were with the Orb MP-1 music player. Setting up the device is just as simple. Following the installation guide on your source computer, the Orb TV connects to a local Wi-Fi signal and then provides a bridge connection between your source content and the wireless receiving device.

Of course you can add additional Orb TV receivers to your system, but during our testing we only used the one included in our review package.

Orb TV receives streaming video with the help of two pieces of software. The first, Orb Caster, must be installed on the source computer (and always be running) on a PC or Mac. Furthermore, this computer must be turned on when accessing its content, or the Orb TV will receive nothing.

Orb Caster can stream media to DLNA-compliant devices as well, such as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Better yet, the Caster can encode files on-the-fly so that most clients will play the source media. These file types include MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AVI, MPG, MP4, and MOV files, but your DLNA device will ultimately dictate your playback abilities.

The second piece of software is the Orb Controller, a smartphone-based application that controls what is being streamed. Like the MP-1, we were a bit surprised to see there wasn't an option for controlling media straight from the source computer, but again, we've been assured that this functionality will be introduced in future product updates. As of now, there are only iOS and Android versions of the Orb Controller available, so consumers without access to these two platforms seemingly have no way of using the Orb TV system.

We would have liked an HDMI out option around back.

Orb gives you component and composite breakout cables for video playback, but we really wish there was an HDMI option. We'd advise against a composite connection; the quality here was just bad.

Performance and features
We should also note that Orb TV is different from Orb Live, the system that allows smartphones to access live TV and other media from anywhere on their mobile devices.

The MP-1 gave us great-sounding audio streaming, but it's a much taller order for a video streamer to provide the same sort of consistent quality. That being said, we had mixed results while getting content to our HDTV from our source MacBook Pro.

In addition to any media you might have stored on your source computer, Orb TV provides access to a number of third-party services including Hulu, ESPN3, Netflix, YouTube, and Comedy Central.

When using the Orb Controller, we were surprised to see that not all of the mentioned items above had fixed menu locations. Instead, the user must search within the correct category to see whether specific content is being hosted by any of the services Orb is plugged into. This setup certainly isn't ideal as it essentially removes the ability to browse. Also, during playback, there doesn't seem to be any options in regards to changing aspect ratios. You'll mostly have to control this manually via your HDTV.

In terms of actual image quality, we were definitely unimpressed. A healthy amount of artifacting and noise littered the screen during each video playback attempt.

Using our Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 netted us a small jump in the overall experience, but stream quality remained mediocre, even when playing items located on the source computer.

Software and mobile access
Accessing all of this content from your mobile phone isn't exactly the most practical of implementations, but it does get the job done. We found that both platforms (iOS and Android) performed well, though your Android mileage may vary depending on the specs of the phone you have. Though phone type didn't really seem to matter when testing the MP-1 music player, it definitely becomes a factor to consider when streaming video. In our individual test, our HTC Evo handled the streaming video well. Our iPod Touch equaled the Evo's performance, as well.

Regardless of the platform, we did experience some lag while navigating through our media library. Also, the time between hitting play on your controller and getting an actual picture onscreen took up to 45 seconds in some cases. Like we mentioned earlier, the overall stream quality can't compete with other home network HD-streaming devices like the WD TV Live Hub or a dedicated NAS storage solution.

Overall, Orb TV didn't impress us nearly as much as the Orb Music Player did. By today's standards, its streaming functionality and capabilities are behind the times, and we just don't think its performance warrants a purchase by anyone who wants to get serious about an alternative content delivery system.

That said, its $99 price point is certainly attractive and may be suitable for very basic streaming needs, but we'd definitely recommend something like the WD TV Live Hub instead. Not only can it outperform the Orb TV in almost every way (including 1080p HD playback), it comes with a whopping 1TB internal drive that users can easily store media on directly. For just $99 more, the Live Hub seems like a much better overall value.

Of course if Orb does in fact update the Controller and Caster software, we will update this review accordingly and document if any of the changes improve video quality or the smartphone controller experience.

Orb VP-1 TV

Orb TV (VP-1)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 5