TVBlob Blob box review

PC makers have been trying - and failing - for years to marry their computer boxes with your living room TV. Will this latest attempt by TVBlob be any different?

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The reality is a little more prosaic: TVBlob's BlobBox is essentially a black box entertainment PC running Linux, with a simplified interface that enables you use to use a remote instead of having to balance a mouse and keyboard on your knees. Oh, and it does broadband. So far, so ho-hum.


REMOTE: The control is virtually the same as the one you get with a Sky+ box, only less easy to read, or to use

What makes the BlobBox more likely to succeed than previous efforts is that a) we're increasingly used to the idea of watching TV online and b) it's managed to wrap up some of the most popular aspects of web entertainment - YouTube, social networking, internet TV, podcasting, games - into an interface you can access from the comfort of your armchair.

Plus it also includes more conventional TV goodies like a digital TV tuner and personal video recorder, plus all the sockets you'd expect like twin Scarts and HDMI, digital and analogue audio outputs, two USB sockets and an Ethernet port. It's your Sky+ box on steroids, basically.

BlobBox setup

Getting the whole thing up and running is fairly straightforward: you simply hook up the necessary cables and then enter the Setup menu (press Set on the Sky+ style remote) and then auto-tune the receivable TV stations and set up your network connection - the BlobBox uses DHCP so that's fairly easy, although the lack of built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi is disappointing. However, you can easily use a USB Wi-Fi module if you wish.


INTERFACE: TVBlob's main screen belies the contents within - navigation is fairly straightforward, however

One of the first things you'll need to do is also update the BlobBox's software/firmware... which can take a while, so it's off for a cup of TV or five, while it does the necessary.

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Once the BlobBox restarts you can begin to use it in earnest - the first thing you notice every time you fire it up is that it's definitely more PC than CE device - you're essentially presented with a PC start-up screen, while you wait to gain the interface proper, complete with system status messages telling you what the BlobBox is loading. Mmm. Is this what you want to see when parked in front of your TV?

BlobBox functions

The main TVBlob UI is pleasing enough though - you're presented with five icons on a black background for TV, Podcast, Games, Archive and Internet.

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INTERNET: Access can access your favourite YouTube Videos, Picasa photos and much more

Plus, you'll also notice red, green, yellow and blue blobs along the bottom whose functions change depending on context, and which also correspond with the same coloured keys on the BlobBox remote.

Select any of the main function icons using the 4-way cursor keys and OK button on the remote and you're spun off to a series of sub-menus giving you further options:

• The TV icon enables you to watch digital TV, Web TV or call up any recordings you've made

• Podcast enables you to listen to any podcasts - including video versions - you've subscribed to by entering the URL or via Miro

• Games presents you with some very basic TV games like poker, puzzles and so on

• Archive also gives you access to stuff you've stored - which could be anything from downloads to videos and photos

• Internet - we'll come back to this one in a minute

Of the five different functions, TV will be the one you use the most. If you're watching digital terrestrial you can choose your channel using the pop-up menu with Now and Next information also appearing on screen.

Making TV recordings couldn't be easier - you simply press the Rec button on the remote, although finding it can be tricky since the remote's grey and black buttons all tend to look alike.

Crucially the Rec and other function buttons aren't even picked out in a different colour (c/f Sky+ box) and in some cases don't even have white painted text/icons, making them hard to read.