Hey, My TV Just Crashed!

By  |  Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

There’s a little-known fact: you don’t need to buy set-top boxes or gaming consoles to enjoy digital media on your TV. Unfortunately, buying more hardware is oftentimes the easier–although more limited–option at the moment.

I just got a great deal on a nicely equipped Samsung LCD television. It comes equipped with DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) client software. DLNA is an industry specification that allows devices to share content over a home network.

DLNA servers share content that is played and viewed on clients like televisions. Samsung provides free software to turn your PC into a home media server.

Easy, you might think. Wrong. Samsung’s DLNA server software only works on Windows, and the application’s interface is hardly intuitive. Weaker yet, the client can only play a limited volume of codecs, and has no support for copy-protected media. The average non-geek would be in over his or her head.

I have a Mac, so I loaded the software onto Windows 7 via Parallels. My TV did not recognize my virtualized DLNA server. So, I then did some digging on Google, and happened upon a very helpful blog post reviewing DLNA servers for Macs.

After reading through the blog, I installed software called EyeConnect. EyeConnect worked, but much of my media library was off limits due to Apple’s DRM restrictions. Pictures did not display at all, for whatever reason.

However, EyeConnect inspired me–it had plug-ins. Why couldn’t it have plug-ins for Hulu or NetFlix? That led me to PlayOn. Playon streams video from an impressively broad selection of sources, but wasn’t available for my Mac. I eventually got it to work in Windows after tweaking Parallels’ settings.

My Samsung recognized PlayOn, but the experience left me unconvinced. Hulu videos either wouldn’t load (citing codec issues) or would take a long time to load – even over a Wireless-N broadband router. My TV also crapped out several times, forcibly rebooting itself.

Now, I am at a crossroads. Do I run LAN cable across my living room floor and into my bedroom to hook into my Mac (or drill through the wall of my apartment)? Since my Samsung does not include Internet widgets for direct access to online video and audio, as some new models do, it may be my most economical option.

A Boxee box or gaming console would also work, but why buy additional hardware when I already have the plumbing? More interoperability testing is desperately needed. Psst…Apple–how about opening up Apple TV to developers (and ditch the DRM)?

I still think DLNA shows promise, but years after its debut, it still doesn’t feel like it’s ready for promise–which might help explain why it’s never become a household name. I’m also pleased with my Samsung flatscreen, but I’ve got to say: Until today, I never saw a TV set crash.



12 Comments For This Post

  1. Jared Newman Says:

    I use PlayOn with my PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s not perfect, and used to be a lot worse, but it seems to get more stable with every update. A one time $40 charge gets you access to Hulu, CBS, NBC and more, plus you can install scripts that let you access even more Web video sites, like Adult Swim and the Food Network.

    That doesn’t really help you, I know, but I definitely recommend it for anyone who has a gaming console and wants to catch up on LOST on the big screen.

  2. David Worthington Says:

    @jared The PS3 might be a fun solution. It’s been forever since I’ve played games. The Wii looks good too – especially with the interactive games like bowling and tennis.

  3. Ryan Waddell Says:

    When I had my Mac I discovered PS3 Media Server to serve videos to my PS3 (but it will serve to any DLNA device, such as an XBox, and most likely to your TV). I can’t recall the link, but it’s a Java based app, runs in Windows, Mac or Linux. Great little app, does on-the-fly conversion as well if you’ve got a machine powerful enough to handle it.

  4. David Worthington Says:

    @ryan I tried that, but it wouldn’t recognize the TV client device.

  5. Pascal Cuoq Says:

    Excellent post. This is the kind of article I keep coming back to Technologizer for.

  6. tom b Says:

    It’s amazing someone would release a product so poorly thought out given that AppleTV, a decent product, has had only modest success. And, to bring it out without easy Mac support is a real head scrather. They should oust the project manager.

    Of course, this is Samsung we are talking about. I have a Samsung “dumb” phone. It is horrible; it is worse even than similar offerings I’ve owned from Motorola. To be worse at interface design than Motorola takes real, if perverse, talent.

  7. Alan M Says:

    I too recently purchased a Samsung 8000 series LED HDTV and have a (new) iMac. Since I use a TivoHD for all viewing, I run pyTivo on the iMac. All the HD videos on my iMac are available from the TivoHD.

    Not a cheap solution since it requires TivoHD, but installation on Mac was a breeze and it works reliably.

    The @Internet widgets available for Samsung HDTV are a joke… no web browser and very, very, very slow. A total waste.

  8. Jim M Says:

    The Sumsung DLNA software is indeed quite poor, although the latest release does at least work without crashing. I’ve found that Nero’s MediaHome server is much more robust and easier to set up. It was a throw-in with their new Media Suite. Windows only, though, I believe. And it can be slow loading files.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I just have an old PC hooked up to the TV. It can play any video file my desktop can, and with VLC I can stream videos to it if I’m feeling too lazy to copy them over FTP. It can do Hulu, Clicker, YouTube, Netflix, just about any video file, it doesn’t need any special software, and because it’s still a computer it can run be used for gaming. (Well, anything that runs on a 2.6 gig Pentium 4, anyway.) I’ve got a homemade serial port infrared reciever, WinLIRC, and AutoHotKey set up, so it works with either an old VCR remote or the DVD player remote for the Playstation 2.

    It’s a little more work to set up, but in my opinion it pays off with a much nicer, more flexible result.

  10. Backlin Says:

    I say LAN cable. It would pull all of your decor together, no matter what decor you have!

    Also, if you got an old computer (some old laptops are good for this too, as long as your TV has a VGA connector), you can use that as a media server, hooked up to your TV. Even the old Pentium 4s can throw out 1080p given the correct 3D acceleration. Put a two terabyte hard drive and Blu-Ray drive in there and you have plenty of room for full-resolution Blu-Ray rips.

  11. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > Apple–how about
    > ditch the DRM)?

    The DRM is there because movie companies won’t license their titles for DRM-free sales. That’s why there is DRM on DVD and Blu-Ray and Netflix also.

    > how about opening up Apple TV to developers

    The AppleTV that’s open to developers is called “Mac mini”. The AppleTV has the equivalent hardware to a DVD player, it’s just a DVD player with the disc part replaced by a hard disk and Wi-Fi. The CPU is not powerful enough to decode video and it’s supposed to sleep most of the time so as not to burn a hole in the box. The video is decoded by the GPU which can only decode MPEG-4 in the same way a DVD player can only decode MPEG-2.

    > DLNA
    > TV

    DLNA is basically a really bad AppleTV with a TV built in. I would just have purchased an AppleTV and a large computer display and that would be that. I’m much happier with FrontRow instead of DLNA.

    > Until today, I never saw a TV set crash.

    DLNA runs Windows, right? Can it get viruses?

  12. Alan Says:

    What tweaking was needed in Parallels settings to get PlayOn to work please? I'm trying to get a DLNA server running on a mostly idle Windows 7 VM but my TV doesn't see it.

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