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The TakeTV device lets you copy video content from your PC to watch on your TV—without a home network
When I think of the scores of products designed to take digital video stored on a personal computer and play it on a TV set, and the millions in research and development funds spent on them, I'm left scratching my head. So many of them—from Apple (AAPL) TV to Microsoft's (MSFT) Media Extenders and scads of competing devices—force users into the needless complexity of creating a home network, wired or wireless, between a TV and a PC that's likely stationed far away in another room.
There's nothing so complex about the setup of SanDisk's (SNDK) new TakeTV device. It is essentially a USB hard drive that, when connected to a TV, can play video files that only minutes before resided on a PC.
A Simple Storage Device
TakeTV uses a rather low-tech approach to the TV-PC gap. Insert the storage device into the USB port of a PC, whether it's running a Windows, Linux, or Mac operating system. When it shows up as a storage device on your computer screen, you copy video files to it and then eject it from the PC.
I loaded the TakeTV device with a copy of a digital movie I had on my hard drive that I had only been able to watch on the computer screen. It was a simple matter of dragging the file to the TakeTV icon on the desktop. Then I walked it into the room and dropped it into the TakeTV cradle I had connected to my television. The cradle has plugs that can fit S-Video or the red-yellow-white RCA ports on your TV. There's also an add-on part that will allow component video connections. My TV has both S-Video and RCA connections on the front panel (as most TV sets do), so it was easy to set up.
TakeTV's video player software resides on the storage device, so you can't use just any USB drive, not even one from SanDisk. After connecting it to the cradle, I hit the TV/video button to bring up the TakeTV menu screen. The device comes with a remote control that you use to cycle through the selection of videos on the drive, then to play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward through the footage, just as you would with a DVD player or VCR.
Some Minor Gripes
When you're not using the drive and the remote, they snap together into a nice, compact unit. While that's convenient, this design made the remote uncomfortable to use: When detached from the drive, the sharp corners that stick up from one end kept poking the palm of my hand.
I watched a whole movie and was generally satisfied with the experience. The player is compatible with video stored in Xvid and Divx formats. SanDisk says it also works with video encoded into MPEG-4, but when I loaded a few videos I had stored in that format, they didn't appear in the list of videos to watch when the device was plugged into the TV.
Downloads with Fanfare
TakeTV is also designed to work with a new Web download service that SanDisk has launched. CBS (CBS) is the initial content provider for the service, named Fanfare, and I'm told another TV network is very close to signing on. For now, there isn't much of a selection, though what's there is free. I downloaded an episode of the Showtime series Dexter and an episode of CSI: Miami. Both played perfectly well on my TV set. You can download these shows only to the TakeTV device—not to your PC hard drive. This limits your ability to store, say, a full season of a favorite program—something that Apple's iTunes allows. But the biggest weakness of Fanfare, as compared with the TakeTV device, is the fact that it works only with Windows.
Overall, TakeTV is off to an interesting start. It's easy enough to use that anyone who has ever downloaded a video to their computer won't have a problem. And at $99 for 4 gigabytes of storage or $149 for an 8GB version, it's a device with promise.