Review: SyncTV (beta)

February 18, 2008

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Never one to shy away from new sources of content, media, entertainment what have you, I was pleased to get an invite into SyncTV’s beta program. Haven’t heard of SyncTV? I wasn’t overly familiar with it myself but it didn’t take long to grab my interest. In the weeks since installing the software I believe I’ve caught a glimpse of the future and its one where physical and digitally distributed media can happily coexist.

I suppose a more formal introduction is in order as we’re discussing a yet to be launched product. SyncTV grew out of the advanced research labs of Pioneer Electronics but according to President John Gildred, it soon became apparent the service was larger than any one platform and or parent company for that matter, and to grow into its full potential SyncTV would need to be its own entity.

In my perusing of Sync’s documentation and corporate philosophy I noticed repeated mention of their open platform standard. They really seem to be pushing this aspect to other consumer electronics manufacturers in hopes of broadening SyncTV’s reach to other segments of the market. Another example of this open platform mindset is the fact that even in beta stage SyncTV is already available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux, which to my knowledge marks the first time a premium video download service has been available on all three platforms (at least at launch).

SyncTV’s subscriptions are per channel, show or season and a new series subscription gives you retroactive access to older episodes (at least in beta), so as you can see flexibility is the name of the game here. This is great for someone like me who may really love a specific show on oh say, Showtime (Dexter) but doesn’t necessarily want to pay for the entire channel. The entire season of Dexter comes out to less than two months of a Showtime subscription, so with a season lasting 12’ish weeks it just might be a viable alternative to a full channel subscription.

SyncTV’s programming choices are admittedly somewhat limited during the beta, but they hope to open that up to a wider selection of shows as time goes on. Showtime’s on board, theres a kids channel, some anime and a a classic TV channel called “Far Out”. As stated the point of the beta is to test the service not necessarily add everything and anything under the sun to the programming rosters, I’m sure thats the plan though.

DRM and Portability: The software is fairly forgiving in the DRM department, you’ll have to play the shows back from a SyncTV enabled device but they’re not locked onto the original PC for playback. As long as you can login with the second client you’ll be able to view your programming. Speaking of secondary playback devices, SyncTV expects third party playback devices (networked players, media extenders and or mobile devices) to start appearing toward the latter half of the year. One of the ideas presented was to put SyncTV directly into televisions, just pop in an Ethernet cable and hit the ground running.

About the image quality: First off its important to note that ultimately SyncTV will offer standard and high definition content but at this time only standard-def programming is available. First up was an episode of ‘Clutch Cargo’. Wow, nostalgia had painted this stuff in a better light than I really remembered. I can’t believe I used to be entertained by this. Anyway for an early 60’s era cartoon (with super low production values to boot) it really didn’t look half bad even on my 92” screen.

Now don’t get me wrong, the video wasn’t perfect, there was some minor posturization present but it was hardly distracting or anything worse than I’m likely to see from my local cable provider. In all honesty, given the relatively small size of the file in question I was surprised it looked as good as it did. I suppose the two years spent on development of SyncTV really paid off.

Next up was the pilot episode of Dexter (in standard-def), again I was really impressed at how good the episode looked. It really appeared to look better than the standard-def available on my cable system but noticeably softer than its high definition counterpart. All in all the image quality even in standard definition was quite watchable but that of course raises my curiosity to know what Sync is capable of doing with a HD encode. I should get my chance to find out shortly as they’ve indicated that the HD switch will get flipped for the public beta launch.

Summary: Obviously SyncTV is still in beta and certain functions, features and pricing structures are subject to change but I liked what I’ve seen do far. I’m not entirely convinced I’d be willing to revisit the service after beta but it does offer a compelling alternative to signing back up for Showtime when Dexter starts again, I canceled the service after last years season finale. For now I’d file SyncTV in the keep-an-eye-on-this file, I’ll continue to use the service throughout the beta and I’ll update this post once HD content is readily available for comparison.

Also if any of you guys get into the beta and have a HTPC, press the SyncTV folks for some sort of MCE integration, currently the only way to view the content on a PC is through Sync’s application. I’m not sure how feasible this is through windows media player but perhaps a standalone plug-in could be wrtitten for Vista MCE.



Posted by Philip Stamps | | Filed Under HTPC, Media Servers, Reviews


Comments

  • B.Greenway

    They just spun off (fully) from Pioneer, I hadn’t got word they were giving up on the project.

  • B.Greenway

    They just spun off (fully) from Pioneer, I hadn’t got word they were giving up on the project.

  • Daniel

    Great idea but I think SyncTV is DOA.

  • Daniel

    Great idea but I think SyncTV is DOA.