Orb TV is aiming to succeed where Google TV and Boxee have stumbled.
The new video-streaming product from Orb Networks aims to let users watch a wide variety of streaming video on their big-screen TVs. That sounds like a wide variety of Internet TV products that we've seen introduced this fall. The difference with Orb TV is that it should be able to deliver unfettered access to a wide variety of online video sites, including TV network sites (Hulu, ABC.com, NBC.com, CBS.com, and so forth) that have since been blocked when accessing from the built-in Flash-enabled Web browsers found on Google TV products, Boxee, and the PlayStation 3.
What's the catch? There are two, right off the bat. The Orb TV doesn't offer HD video, and it requires users to run the Orbcaster server software on a Mac or Windows PC elsewhere on their home network. That software streams the Web video to the Orb TV, which displays it on the television to which it's connected (via composite or component AV cables). In other words, you'll need to keep the PC running whenever you're watching the Orb TV.
Thankfully, you don't need to have a laptop nearby while watching. You browse available shows via the Orb's free control app--available on Android phones and iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). In addition to the aforementioned video sites, Orb is aiming to support Netflix, YouTube, and CinemaNow streaming and will also provide for streaming of videos and photos on the host PC.
If this sounds a lot like PlayOn--which allows online video to be streamed from PCs to game consoles and other TV-connected devices--it is. But unlike PlayOn's sometimes less-than-intuitive navigation, the Orb app handles "curation" of the content, so you can browse by show title on your smartphone/tablet screen without having to know which show is available from which online video site. The other cool extra Orb provides is support for an IR blaster, so the company could add TV remote codes to the app software, allowing you to change inputs and toggle power without the need to use a second remote.
The Orb TV hardware resembles a large hockey puck. Network connectivity (to the source PC and the phones/tablets acting as controls) is handled via built-in Wi-Fi. Orb supports multiple Orb TVs on a single network, so you could theoretically have one connected to every TV in the house.
Of course, the big distinguishing feature--also touted on PC-based "screen scraping" products like Veebeam--is that the Orb TV should be "unblockable." Because the video stream originates on a PC, video sites shouldn't be able to block access as they do with traffic originating directly from products with built-in browsers (like Google TV, Boxee, and the like). Toss in the fact that Orb TV's got an impulse-friendly $99 price--and no additional fees for accessing open Web video sites--and you can imagine that a lot of consumers will happily overlook the requirement that their PC needs to be left on.
We'll have a full review of Orb TV in the near future. In the meantime, check out our review of its audio-only predecessor, the Orb MP-1. And let us know if you think the Orb TV is a viable cord-cutting option in the comments (below).