- Editor's Rating
- Great video
- Content is as unlimited as your TV
- DVR capabilities
- Initial cost high, but lower than Slingbox
Quick TakeA must for anyone who never wants to miss their favorite show again.
There are multiple options to allow you to watch movies and TV programs on your smartphone or tablet, but one of my favorites is the Vulkano Flow from Monsoon Multimedia. This is a hardware/software combo that allows you to view anything that you could watch at home on your mobile device, wherever you are in the world.
It’s a great solution for frequent travelers who get tired of the poor selection of cable channels in hotel rooms. It can also be used to watch TV during lunch hour, catch sports games when on the go, or any time there’s a show you don’t want to miss but you can’t be near a TV.
The Vulkano Flow itself costs $100, the Android app costs $12.99, and the iPhone/iPad app is also $12.99. There is no monthly service cost.
Unlike most streaming video services like Netflix or Blockbuster, Monsoon’s offering has a hardware component that sits next to your TV as well as an app that runs on the mobile device of your choice.
The Vulkano Flow hardware consists of a box that you connect to your A/V equipment at home and also to your wireless network. This does the work of taking the output from your cable box and DVR and converting it to be streamed over the Internet.
On the back are input ports for YPrPb (up to 1080i) as well as Composite (NTSC/PAL). This makes it a good option for people who want to hook up their cable/cable box. There are equivalent output ports, so you can hook the Vulkano Flow up between your cable box and TV.
The Vulkano Flow has built-in Wi-Fi so you don’t have to run Ethernet cable to your living room. This is an amazing feature in a device this affordable.
There are also small infrared dongles that take the place of the handheld remote control that you’d typically use to change channels or do other functions.
An important thing to consider is that using this device is probably going to take over one of your TVs. Most cable boxes can only display one show at a time, so if you’re using the Vulkano to watch a program, people at home either need to watch what you’re watching to or have their own TV.
No matter whether you’re running the Android or iPhone/iPad version of Vulkano Mobile, the user interface is almost identical. This is nice if you’re like me and run it on both a smartphone and a tablet, as I don’t have to learn two UIs.
The main window has icons for the four main functions: Live TV, Guide, My Recordings, and Settings. The one you’ll be using the most is Live TV, which opens the stream of video coming from the Vulkano box.
Once you’re watching video, you can tap the screen of your device and bring up an on-screen window that you’ll use to control what you’re watching. You can enter channel numbers, remotely turn on and off your cable box, move around in on-screen menus, and so on.
One of the nice features of the Vulkano Flow I wasn’t expecting is the program guide. You can use this to see what’s on now or coming up, and even switch to a program.
The software for Windows and Mac OS X is included free with the hardware. So if you want to watch TV somewhere other than on your smartphone or tablet you can for no extra cost. And you can record video and transfer it to your mobile device.
If you want to cut to the chase, the performance of the Vulkano Flow is excellent. I have no significant complaints. But you have to be reasonable in your expectations.
Video looks great, even on large screens like my iPad. I’m streaming regular-definition TV, and on the tablet it looks just like it does on the actual TV. I’ve never seen much need for HDTV, so I’m not able to test this feature of the Vulkano Flow, but I doubt it would look much different.
Naturally, the bigger the screen on your smartphone is, the more of a TV-like experience you’re going to get. To me, it looks fine on screens as small as 3.7-inches. But you’re going to need to consider your content if you’re on a display that little: special-effects driven movies are a waste of time, but comedies work fine. Sports can be a mixed bag — sometimes you can follow the ball/puck, sometimes you can’t.
On the iOS version, you can choose between Normal, Medium, and High resolutions. I generally use High when I’m on Wi-Fi, but switch to Normal when I’m using a 3G connection. It’s more straightforward with Android, Just Low and Normal.
You should keep in mind that this device buffers a few seconds of video, so if there’s a small break or slowdown in your connection what you’re seeing doesn’t skip. For the most part this is a good thing, but be aware that if you’re controlling a remote menu (such as the one on your DVR) there’s going to be a several second delay any time you do anything. This makes scrolling through lots of on-screen windows a slow process.
Thankfully, the Vulkano program guide mostly takes care of this problem. All you have to do is tell the app which cable service you subscribe to and you’re good to go. You can list programs by time and channel, and even do a search for specific shows. It’s a bit slower than I’d like, but it’s fine as long as you give yourself more than a minute or so to find your next station. Once you find the program you want, you can tell the Vulkano to start playing it with just a touch.
Video Pausing and Recording
Monsoon recently added some very cool features to the Vulkano Flow: you can pause live video, or record shows to watch later. Basically, it turns your smartphone or tablet into a DVR.
Currently, these features are only available for the iPhone and iPad, but they are in development for Android. It can’t be too soon for me.
Using the Pause feature is straightforward. There’s an on-screen pause button — touch it and the screen freezes. You can go to the bathroom or fix a snack, and when you come back you can resume where you left off. Even better, if you’ve buffered up a few minutes of your show you can fast forward through commercials. There FF button jumps you ahead 30 seconds. If you go too far you can jump back 30 seconds.
Just be aware, how useful the Pause function is depends heavily on how much storage space you have available. The more you have, the more room for buffering there is. Anything less than a couple of gigabytes and you won’t be pausing for very long.
Right now, the Record feature is nice but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Vulkano Mobile can’t record in the background, or when the device is off. You can’t set it up to automatically record future shows, though Monsoon seems to be planning to add that feature. But if there’s a show you really want to record for later, you can.
I’m sure some of you are wondering why you should get a Vulkano instead of the better-known Slingbox from Sling Media. The answer is easy: price. Monsoon Multimedia products are much cheaper.
As mentioned earlier, the Vulkano Flow sells for $100 and a mobile app is $13. The least expensive Slingbox is $180, and the app is $30.
This is one of the big advantages of this product — the version of the rival Slingbox with Wi-Fi costs considerably more. If you prefer Ethernet, you can hook this box up directly.
And the Slingbox lacks the DVR capabilities of the Vulkano Flow. This gives Monsoon a significant advantage.
Smartphone screens are getting ever larger — 4.3-inch displays are now fairly common, and a number of models with 4.7-inch screens are coming out soon. This means that watching video on your phone is no longer a painful process. And if you have a tablet, it seems almost a no-brainer.
If you do a lot of traveling, or are just away from your TV a lot, this might be a good option for you. You can watch all your favorite programs, and your cable company’s on-demand service just like you would at home.
You can content yourself with YouTube, or pay $8 a month for Netflix, but why not have access to everything that’s on your TV? You can, with a Vulkano Flow.
The initial cost is $113, but after that you don’t have to pay anything. There are no monthly charges to nickel-and-dime you to death. Do the math: a year of Netflix costs $96. So does the second year, and the third. The Vulkano Flow has a one-time cost, after that it’s free.