While the Media Vault appeared on the TV screen as an available server, the Pavilion dv9000t notebook computer HP sent to use during the review was AWOL. It turns out the notebook had Windows Media Player 10, but the TV needs version 11, which I promptly downloaded and installed. The notebook then appeared on the TV’s list of available servers. A standard-def copy of The Bourne Identity from CinemaNow .com comes pre-loaded on all Media Vaults. Because the movie is protected by Windows DRM (digital rights management), I was told it had to be “authenticated” from the PC and that the computer would have to be active on the network for the TV to display the movie.
After two hours on the phone with several HP experts, it turned out that the TV cannot play DRM-restricted content stored on the Media Vault. How’s that for an unexpected twist? HP points out that Windows DRM is an industrywide issue that can lead to such problems. After many Windows machinations (confirming and reconfirming why I’m a Mac guy), I finally got The Bourne Identity to stream from the Media Vault to the notebook PC—but not the TV. Not exactly the seamless experience I was hoping for.
I was able to watch some “unprotected” video files on the TV after I copied them from the notebook to the Media Vault. Caddyshack, encoded in MPEG-1 format at 352x240 resolution, looked awful—very soft with tons of jaggies and noise. Several demo/trailer clips streamed from the PC looked a lot better, especially one in high-def, but they still didn’t look as good as what you’d get from a DVD or HD DVD—they were fairly noisy and fell victim to what is known as false banding, in which you see distinct bands of color where there should be smooth gradations.
HP’s goal for the MediaSmart TV was to add network media-streaming capabilities to an excellent LCD TV. The company certainly got one part right—it’s a superb LCD TV with great overall performance.
But the media-streaming part— especially in conjunction with the Media Vault—is not quite ready for prime time. It should work okay if you have movies, photos, and/or music on a networked PC (and you’ve got the Windows chops to make sure the entire system is configured properly, which is not a slam dunk in any case). On the other hand, if you don’t care about all this media-streaming hullabaloo, the MediaSmart TV is a great value at $1700. TPV