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Features - more

Viewsonic is trying to tie into the "Social Media" craze by advertising that this box will let you keep up on your Facebook, twitter and other social sites. What this translates to is that that the box comes with a web browser. Figure 10 is a screenshot of the browser after I navigated to the CNN web site.

Browsing the web on TV courtesy of the VMP75

Figure 10: Browsing the web on TV courtesy of the VMP75

In general, the browser on the box rendered pages fairly well, but it doesn't support Flash so you'll get used to seeing broken flash images. I checked out the results of the Acid2 web browser test and this browser passed. But on the newer Acid 3 test, it failed with a score of 43 out of 100.

But in reality, rendering is not the real issue with this browser. The real problem is user interaction. Unless you want to connect a mouse and a keyboard, you'll be limited to cell-phone style entry in text fields, and mouse movement using the arrow keys on your remote. It's painful enough to just barely make it useable for anything other than a quick check of a few previously bookmarked web sites.

A few other features that I won't have room to cover in detail include Live365 and SHOUTCast Internet radio (both worked well), and a RSS feed-reader which also worked fairly well for keeping up with the headlines of your favorite web sites. Figure 11 shows access to the Flickr service, after I had navigated into my account using the VMP75.

 Flickr on the VMP75

Figure 11: Flickr on the VMP75

This application was done well and appeared to be a true "native" application instead of just a web-browser wrapped around a standard web site. Once in the application, I could navigate, select photos, view a slide show using previously selected music, etc. The only hiccup I saw was the fact that when photo descriptions included HTML, the raw HTML markup would be shown instead of being interpreted or ignored.

Another feature is the ubiquitous YouTube. But unlike the Flickr application, the YouTube interface is just the web-browser with all the navigation problems mentioned earlier. It works, but trying to search and navigate deeply into a complex web site using cell-phone style text input and arrow keys for mouse navigation is painful.

Text on the VMP75's box indicated that a virtual keyboard would pop-up when needed on the YouTube site, but it didn't for me. The only way I could search was by using the remote to enter strings cellphone style.

Netflix Integration

One big selling point for the VMP75 is integration with the Netflix service. If you already have an account, you can use that. Or if you don't, you can use the bundled 30-day free trial. Like the Flickr application, the Netflix application is native to the VMP75 and not just a web- wrapper. Figure 12 shows a typical screen after a movie has been selected.

Netflix movie selection

Figure 12: Netflix movie selection

The integration with your standard account allows you to use a computer to manage your movie queue and then use the VMP75 for viewing. This isn't has handy as the newer Netflix interfaces on the WD TV Live Plus, Roku players and Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player. Those devices all allow you to browse and play all Netflix Play Instantly content. The library of movies and TV shows that Netflix is allowed to stream is a bit limited. But it is nice to browse and immediately view something.

So how did it work? Unfortunately, it was a mixed bag. When it was working, it worked well. But I would say on average, I got a crash of the application once ever 30 minutes or so. And when this would happen, the box would exit all the way back to the main menu. I'd have to navigate and select Netflix again, navigate to my movie, and then tell it to resume where it left off. And then, when I was wrapping up this review, I started getting the screen shown in Figure 13 every time I went into the service.

Netflix error

Figure 13: Netflix error

The Netflix streaming service is nice, but if they want to really compete with the cable and satellite companies, crashing every 30 minutes and failing to connect at all is going to be an issue.

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