Play It Smart (Part 3) - Belkin @TV plus, Panasonic TH-L55WT50Z

12/6/2012 3:18:05 PM

Belkin @TV plus

Media player

We deviate a little bit from media players here: the Belkin @TV plus is not actually a media player.

In fact, nowhere on the box does it even explicitly state what it is, but what it does is simple: it streams live TV from your set top box (e.g. Freeview or Sky decoder) to mobile devices on your home network or over the internet.

So if you have ever thought to yourself “Gee, I wish I could watch TV without the inconvenience of actually having to sit in front of the TV”, then this is the gadget for you.

To enable this, you start by connecting the @TV plus to your decoder via either a component or composite video and analog audio connection. You can’t connect it via HDMI – the digital content protection in the video signal would prevent the device from re-sending it over the network.

Belkin @TV plus

Mobilize: Become a couch potato on the go

If necessary you can then daisy-chain the component or composite connection back to your TV, although most set-top boxes allow you to use HDMI and component or composite outputs at the same time, in which case you wouldn’t need this final step.

Next you connect the @TV plus to your home network via either a LAN cable to your router, or the @TV plus’s built-in Wi-Fi adaptor. From there you install the supplied software onto a PC, which automatically connects to the device on your network and allows you to select what kind of set-top box it is connected to this will give you access to the decoder’s remote control, which will be displayed on screen.

This onscreen remote will control your decoder just like a real remote, by placing the supplied IR transmitters in front of the decoder itself.

While that may sound complex, I did all this at home with the Belkin @TV plus and had it up and running smoothly in about ten minutes. The streamed TV signal appeared on my PC with a few seconds delay and slightly lower quality, but perfectly watchable. Up to 8 devices can view the stream via Wi-Fi. However, the quality drops with more connections, because they all watch the same channel.

If the other end of your house isn’t far enough away from your TV, you can also watch the stream over the internet anywhere in the world on a 3G device using the @TV plus app for Android and iOS devices.

The app gives you full remote control access plus the ability to record the stream onto your device for later viewing good for storing content for a long flight, for example, as long as your phone has enough storage space.

Inexplicably, the app for tablets is free but the smartphone version costs $16.99 NZD. It seems a bit rough to charge this on top of the purchase price and we’d prefer that Belkin just adjust the RRP on the unit to over its software development costs instead.

Regardless, the @TV plus works as advertised and I’m sure the concept of watching live TV anywhere appeals to some people. If this functionality were integrated with a bona fide media player I for one would find the whole concept more appealing.

As it was, the greatest pleasure I got out of it was ghost-pausing the TV using my smartphone from the other end of the house while my partner was watching Shortland Street, but your mileage may vary.

At a glance

·         Stream live TV to your PC or mobile device

·         Wired and wireless network adaptors built-in

·         Supports component and composite video connections

·         Works great but possibly of limited appeal

Belkin @TV Plus (G1V1000AU)

Price: $270


The unique ability to stream live TV via Wi-Fi or 3G works a treat, but that is also the only feature

Value: 7/10

Panasonic TH-L55WT50Z

55-inch LED-backlit LCD TV

Panasonic was one of the first manufacturers to bring flat-panel TVs to the consumer market in New Zealand, about ten years ago. It doesn’t seem to have lost any gusto in that time, with many lines of smarts TVs currently available on our fair shores.

The TH-L55WT50Z is the largest of the WT50 series of Full HD LED TVs from Panasonic, boasting a mammoth 55 inch/139cm screen. The headline features other than the whopping size are active shutter 3D technology and, of course, smart TV functionality.

Description: Panasonic TH-L55WT50Z

Elegant: At a price

Before getting down to the nuts and bolts, it’s worth pointing out this TV is a thing of beauty. The tiny bezel is just over a centimeter wide and the viewable portion of the screen fills virtually all of the front face. The whole unit is only 4cm deep and sits on an elegant crescent-shaped steel foot.

Home network and internet connectivity are provided via either LAN or Wi-Fi. It’s nice to see a built-in Wi-Fi adapter instead of having to buy it as an optional accessory, even though I’d recommend a wired LAN connection for optimal network performance.

The hub of most of the smart functionality is what Panasonic calls Viera Connect. Here I found the usual suspects, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, pre-installed. There’s also access to a multitude of other apps through the marketplace.

To be blatantly honest I can’t find many uses for TV apps. There is no way I’d sign in to a social network site on the TV that every resident and visitor to my house uses, and most of the other apps are either better suited to my smartphone or are just plain gimmicky. Streaming internet radio via Shoutcast is quite cool however, and if Quickflix improves and increases its range of content, it would almost make this functionality worthwhile to me.

The web browser works quite well thanks to a powerful dual-core processor in the TV, and it’s convenient to access using the secondary touchpad remote control.

A Viera TV smartphone app for Android and iPhone lets you stream media to the TH-L55WT50Z from your smartphone and provides a full onscreen remote control.

In term of picture quality, the TH-L55WT50Z is not perfect but it is close. The edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming provides an amazingly crisp, bright and colorful image with wide viewing angles, but is let down by being unable to reproduce deep, cinema-like black levels. The motion-smoothing technology is also pretty good with minimal artefacts if you’re not averse to the “soap opera” effect (the feel that everything was shot on video instead of film).

3D quality is about the best I’ve ever seen – pity the set only comes with one pair of 3D glasses. Overall I believe active shutter 3D is the superior technology compared to passive 3D implementations, it just needs to get past a few shortcomings such as crosstalk, which Panasonic seems to have almost nailed.

Sound quality is clear but lacks punch probably due to the lack of space in such a thin TV to fit decent-sized speakers.

Overall I really like the TH-L55WT50Z. Avatar in 3D has never looked so good. In my short time with the TV I barely scratched the surface of its smart functionality, but nothing really justified its large price tag in my books.

At a glance

·         55-inch, Full HD 1080p, edge-lit LED-LCD

·         200Hz panel (1,600Hz phased backlight scanning)

·         “Viera Connect” Smart TV Hub

·         Built-in Wi-Fi

Panasonic TH-L55WT50Z

Price: $5,499


A big, awesome 3D smart TV, but a little on the pricey side

Value: 8/10

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