Over the last couple of years we have watched the growth of the HTPC (Home Theater PC) market bloom. As PCs become more powerful and smaller, consumers are finding new ways to attach one of these to their TVs. We have even reviewed a couple of seemingly ready-made solutions for this type of setup. But with a PC attached to your living room TV, how do you bridge the gap between TV and video only to a fully functional device?
Not that long ago we told you about GlideTV. This company which was founded and run by Scott Vouri (formerly from NVIDIA) who wants to offer a product that combines the power of a PC (or MAC) and the family TV. This is a product that comes in two parts. The first is a new software that uses Java (for platform independence) to create an easy to use user interface for navigation through different media services.
The other half of this is a remote multi-function touchpad that makes using the GlideTV software significantly easier to use. This part of the duo is called the Navigator and can be found online for around $69.99. We take a look at both of these and see how they fare in a small environment as well as in a typical home entertainment room. So let's turn on the TV and get down to some testing.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box the GlideTV Navigator came in was a clean black box with the GlideTV logo on top. The overall impact is one of elegance and performance. It also adds a little bit of mystery into the mix.
With the lid off we get our first glimpse at the Navigator. It is a small device with an obvious touchpad in the center. This is safely placed in a foam cut-out to make sure that the Navigator stays in place.
After pulling out the foam insert, we find a few things under the hood so to speak. GlideTV has cut this out to not only have more room, but also to ensure that the parts in the bottom of the box stay in place during shipping.
One of the items in the bottom is the charging cradle including the USB cable and Powerpack. But there is more than that; there is a small USB dongle. This is the RF receiver that allows you to use the Navigator without the need to worry about line of sight.
The more ancillary items that came in the box were the drivers, a quick start guide and a note saying that you should pretty much ignore the drivers CD-ROM and head to the GlideTV website and grab the latest version of the software. We will show you why you should follow this recommendation a little later.
As we said, the Navigator is a small device. Thanks to the design it fits firmly in your hand and all of the functions are available to your fingers and thumb. The weight is negligible, but enough that you know it is in your hand.
Although the image here is upside down, it gives you a good representation of the layout of the buttons. The central touchpad also has multiple functions. It can be "clicked" by pressing it down as well as used to scroll back and forth, and up and down. Around the touchpad you also see buttons; these provide shortcuts to certain functions that can be found on most media center remotes (like Back, Esc, Guide, etc).
The top button with the GlideTV logo offers a couple of uses. Pressing this gets you back to the GlideTV application (if you are not currently in it). Double clicking this button gets you a quick guide to the functions of the Navigator including options available in a few different applications. Beneath this we have a trio of volume buttons (up, down, and mute). On the left corner is a power button; this puts your system into something close to hibernate mode, but is more like an advanced power down state.
On the other side of the Navigator we find a search button. This search button can be used either as a general search or inside an application. Pressing it brings up a virtual keyboard that you can type on using the Navigator or with a keyboard attached to the system. Below the touchpad is another trio of buttons. These are for the playback, Play/Pause, forward and back.
Along the bottom are four contact points; these are to charge the internal batteries. The source of the power is from the base. This can be setup to charge from a USB port or from the wall. The dual power source gives you excellent flexibility for placement in the room where the GlideTV will be. You can put it up by the PC and use a USB port for charging or you can put it by the seating area and use normal wall power. This is a nice decision on the part of GlideTV.
The last item of importance for the Navigator is the USB RF adapter. Again, this is an excellent choice because it allows for ease of use and the ability to "fire and forget" as there is no need to maintain line of site with the transponder.
So, from a hardware standpoint we have what appears to be an excellent product with some thought put into it.
The GlideTV Software
The second part of the GlideTV solution is their software. This can be downloaded for free from their website. The software is Java based so it will require the latest version of Java. Fortunately, the installer will let you know if you have this or not and even launch the installer if you don't.
After the installation is finished you will see the GlideTV interface. It is not a bad looking UI at all, but I do think it could be made a little better. The idea of having a shortcut button is nice, but most people are going to want shortcuts right on the home screen. When I brought this up to the guys at GlideTV they agreed and are working on something to make the shortcuts more streamlined.
The list of items on the right is very self-explanatory, but we do want to take a look at a few things.
The shortcuts page is very obvious in its use and also in its setup. In fact, when you first open it the software tells you exactly what to do.
The second button is, for lack of a better word...just plain cool. This part of the software lets you actually see everything that is available to watch or download on the internet. If it is on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, you name it, you can find it. If it is a movie or a TV series, free or available for rent of purchase; I know we were impressed with the scope and detail of the information available. The "What's On" portion of the application uses the built in browser. To gather the information it connects to GlideTV's servers. This is why you are able to get the information quickly and in one place. We will talk more about the browser later.
Once you find what you are looking for you can see more information about it and also see where you can buy or rent it, or if it is free (in the case of some TV shows).
As you can see here, the What's On servers are smart enough to even find individual episodes and their status. This one piece of the GlideTV application takes almost all of the hassle out of searching for what you want to watch on TV.
Now we have moved from the realm of the "What's On" to the browser behind the function. This browser works inside the GlideTV and touches many other pieces of the software, but the browser is still a fully functional web browser. It also has a method for displaying and working with Tabs. As you can see in the view above, the tabs are visible in a "media browser" style. It makes finding and selecting the one you want very easy.
The browser has a few settings in store as well. These are much like the settings on the typical browser, only not as deep as most. One that is important to anyone viewing from more than 6 feet is the default zoom level. We found that from a distance of about 7-10 feet a zoom level of 150% lets you see things much better than the stock zoom.
The search function we have already covered above, so we can move right on to the Websites piece. This is another great idea as it groups the most common streaming applications currently on the web; everything from Hulu to Last.FM. Although not a complete listing, it is very comprehensive.
The Apps button is where all of the applications are installed on the system (and can be interacted with by GlideTV). As you can see, GlideTV can interact with Windows Media Center.
In the settings page you have some decent options. One of them does deal with the shortcuts menu we talked about; you can set the software to start on the shortcuts page or on the home screen that we showed above. But there is more than that, you can also change the animation type, set things to run full screen or in windowed mode plus more.
Overall the GlideTV software is very well put together. There are one or two things that need a little work, but for the most part the software is very complete. Having said that, we have spoken with the gang at GlideTV and we have been told there is even more in store for the app (we just cannot tell you what).
For our purposes here performance is not how fast the software worked or if it impacts system speed (which we did not see any indication of); it is more about how well the Navigator and GlideTV software works in its intended purpose.
Moving through the software was very easy as the touchpad works just like the touchpad on a typical notebook (with the exception of using your thumb versus using your finger tip). The issue with the shortcuts page did not factor in heavily in our testing, but we did get comments on it when we showed off the program. As we mentioned before, we found the Navigator to be light and not straining on the wrist even after long usage. But with all of the good, there was some bad.
We ran into a handful of pages that would not remember the default Zoom settings. We also found that with certain pages and applications the search function would not allow you to use the keyboard for input. We talked with GlideTV and they told us that this was due to a design choice. The GlideTV search application is something of a pass through.
Because of this we did not see the keyboard working on the GlideTV screen. The application would not give up focus so we did not see the physically attached keyboard working on the GlideTV screen. They are aware of this and are working on the issue, but it is not truly a flaw.
The next thing we found (which again was not a flaw) was a lack of a virtual number pad for use in Media Center or when watching TV.
Battery life was fairly typical with just over 24 hours of standby time and just over 8 hours of continuous usage. Since GlideTV provides a charging stand and rechargeable batteries this is not a big deal (most people will leave the Navigator in the stand).
Other than the listed items, the GlideTV application and the Navigator work extremely well together.
After our time with the GlideTV Navigator and software we were fairly impressed, although it did not exactly replace our media center remote. We have been using it less and less with it only being pulled out to quickly move from one channel to another.
We have also begun using more of the online media services as a result of having them all in one place. Before the only place Hulu, ABC.com and Netflix were all used was in the lab where the mouse for the HTPC system was in easy reach. Now with the range and ease of use the Navigator allows these normally mouse bound apps to be used in a much larger environment.
The What's On service is exceptional and makes it very simple to move back and forth between services to find TV shows and Movies that you might miss if you are bound to one service. As an added bonus, you get the software for free and the Navigator will only cost you $69.99. This puts the GlideTV Navigator in a lower price bracket than many media center remotes.
As it stands right now, the GlideTV Navigator is a great product and from what we have heard, it is only going to get better.