I spent a large portion of the summer building a nice deck just outside my back door. Once it was finished we would sit out there under the bright Texas stars and I would tell my wife I needed a way to watch sports out there. My WiFi is full strength on the deck, but I could rarely watch live sporting events. If only I could watch on my iPad or iPhone or even laptop. Enter the Monsoon Vulkano to grant my wish! The Vulkano sports technology for TV placeshifting, digital video recording, internet video playback, universal plug and play and mobile video recording. All of this technology comes in a small attractive box with a 1TB hard drive as the Deluxe Pro model. Let’s take a look.
The unit is super light and measures 16 1/4″ wide, just under 5 1/2″ deep and only 3/4″ thick. The Vulkano comes in silver or black so it should match any home theater set up. It is packed with features and literally comes with everything you will need right out of the box. Here is the company’s list of features and what is included with each box.
Installing the Vulkano is quick and easy. I connected the box to my main television where my Dish Network HD DVR tuner is located. Connect the unit between your satellite receiver or cable box and then directly into the television. Do not worry, your regular signal and features will pass straight through the Vulkano and not be interrupted. The Vulkano will now simply enhance your media consumption. For HD connections, connect to the receiver using the component cables. Standard definition composite cable connections are also available if you have not made the jump into the High Def world. HD out connections include composite HD as well as HDMI out. This is one of the only products I know of that actually includes composite, component as well as an HDMI cable. I am using the HDMI out so had to make sure I connected the audio out cables straight to the television also.
Once the initial connection is made, the television service should play through just as if nothing was added between the receiver and the TV. To continue set up, connect the hard drive and IR blaster. Installing the IR blaster is important so that you are able to change the channel on the cable or satellite service with the Vulkano and especially using a mobile device or computer. If you do not have WiFi, connect an ethernet cable, which of course is included in the box. That is all it takes. Super simple to connect and should only take a couple of minutes.
Once the Vulkano box is connected, you will be required to set up the unit which is simple. First, the unit will search for a WiFi network. Once found, choose your network and enter the password. Once the WiFi connection is configured, press OK.
The unit will now ask for a name and password. It is important to remember both since watching television from another device will require each. Once the account is named, choose if it is connected via component or composite and configure the EPG (Electronic Program Guide). The guide is configured using your home ZIP code. Next, tell the Vulkano if you are connected through satellite or cable. I currently use DishNetwork HD service. The providers in your area will be displayed so the guide comes from the correct company. It is even possible to choose the packages you subscribe to so the guide matches the service.
Now you will configure the IR blaster. Make sure you have already positioned the IR blaster device on your cable or satellite unit and it is ready to go. I selected by device type, then by satellite which brought me to choose Dish Network System as the manufacturer. Once the current unit is chosen, the Vulkano will ask you to test the remote control by changing channels. The new firmware makes changing channels much faster. After configuring the channels, choose your time zone and your Vulkano is ready to go!
From here on, the unit’s features are all used from the menu screen. Each item is self-explanatory. The Guide allows you to set recordings and look at what will be showing on your channels. Watch and manage any of your recordings from My Recordings and change your connections through Settings. If you chose to connect the unit to WiFi or Ethernet, YouTube is available from the Internet Apps. The menus are simple and intuitive and much snappier since the latest firmware update.
When the hard drive is connected, the Vulkano can act as a DVR. Record live television or schedule shows from the Vulkano much like you would for any DVR. When scheduling to record, there are several options or profiles. The recordings can be made for television and PC or for iPhone, iPad and Touch. It is important to know where you are going to watch a recorded episode since the video will be optimized for the device. A show recorded for the television or PC will not be able to play on an iPad or iPod. A recording for the mobile devices is viewable on a television but the quality is not good.
Now that we have the box and all of the features running smoothly on the television, we need to look at the mobile aspects of the Monsoon Vulkano. This is the part that has made me come to love and be reliant on the Vulkano box.
The magical feature of the Vulkano is that the unit is fully functional and usable from an iPhone, iPad or PC or Mac from anywhere in the world as long as you have wifi or a 3G connection. Transfer and watch recorded shows, schedule recordings and best of all, watch live television while on the go all on free applications. The iPad and iPhone app are virtually identical other than the size of course.
Much like the on-screen box application the Vulkano Mobile app is run from the menu page. The first item of business is to connect to your personal Vulkano box. The user name and password that you entered in the initial setup will be used to connect the Vulkano to the mobile device. Once connected, the full feature set of the Vulkano is now mobile!
My favorite part of the Vulkano is watching live TV on my iPhone or iPad. I actually sit outside and relax on my deck with my iPad and watch Monday Night Football many weeks. A great way to relax after football practice and watch some TV. The video quality is dependent on the speed of the connection, so a good WiFi connection will bring high quality video. While watching live TV, you can access the remote and change channels just as if you were sitting in front of the box as long as the IR Blaster is connected. When changing channels, it will take a few seconds for the IR blaster to send the information so there is a small amount of delay compared to using a remote sitting in front of the box. My DishNetwork box goes to sleep after a period of time. When I first tried to watch live TV from afar, I thought I was out of luck since I just reached the sleep screen. I discovered that while in the remote screen, tap the menu tab. Once the tab is up, tap the middle of the arrows and it will be the same as clicking the select button on my Dish remote and turn on the satellite.
Recorded media is also usable on the mobile devices. Using the guide, scheduling a recording is simple and can be set for any of the profiles. Once a show is recorded, click the Ready to Transfer tab and a list of iPod/iPad friendly shows will be listed. These shows must be transferred to the device prior to watching so keep this in mind with hard drive space. I would rather be able to stream the recorded shows, but having them transferred means they are readily available and do not need a connection. Also, shows can easily be deleted and others added since they are all hosted on the hard drive. The quality of recorded videos was television quality and sounded great.
Just like the iOS applications, the Mac app is developed in the same theme and usability as the set top box application. Basically the same buttons have the same features as the Vulkano box as well as the iPhone and iPad app. I do think the picture quality seems much superior to the other mobile options even though a laptop is not quit as mobile as the other devices. I was pleased that all of the user experiences were seamless with all four versions I have used.
The Monsoon Vulkano provides users with the ability to watch and control live television from virtually anywhere in the world on a variety of mobile devices. The beauty is that no extra subscriptions are required. Your actual cable or satellite service is used and streamed over WiFi or 3G connections. I have absolutely loved the ability to watch TV on my devices and control the channels and would recommend the product on this feature alone. It is truly amazing. An added bonus is the ability to store and sync recorded shows and movies as well as schedule new recordings. The unit is tiny, silent and attractive. It is actually so thin, I cannot see it sitting on my satellite receiver. Monsoon has developed a quality product and seems to be actively improving both the apps as well as the device software to keep the experience to be high quality.
MSRP: $149.99-379.99 (as reviewed)
What I like: The ability to easily watch and control television while on a mobile device! All versions of the experience are seamless.
What could be improved: I would like a nicer remote and streaming capabilities for recordings. I have very little space on my iPhone to hold media.