Plair beat Google to the punch with its wireless streaming HDMI dongle that was announced at last year's CES, but had the wind sucked from it sails with the arrival of Chromecast. So, the company went back to the lab and today, it's ready to reveal Plair 2, a dongle that looks the same as the original, but comes running a customized version of Android. That means instead of simply being a conduit for streaming video from the cloud, it runs most any app found on Google Play on your TV. It works via an Android companion app (for devices running version 4.3 or iOS 5 and up) that lets you connect the dongle to your home WiFi network and acts as a remote control for the device after setup's complete. Oh, and with the added functionality comes a sizable drop in price -- while the original Plair cost $99, this new version costs just $49.
Setting up Plair 2 is a simple affair. Just like the Chromecast, you simply stick the dongle into an HDMI port on your TV, plug in the microUSB power cord, then load up the companion app. The app prompts you to log the dongle into your home network, then switches to remote mode once your done -- it takes no more than a minute or two. After that, your TV will load up Plair's home screen, which displays a row of apps onscreen in a cover flow fashion. Navigation via the companion app's accomplished via swipes and taps or a virtualized touchpad and cursor. Once you've chosen your content portal, the tablet version of that app is displayed onscreen, and you make your selections with the cursor.
While the remote app is a good idea in theory, we found using it to be a bit difficult. Swipes failed to register regularly, and scrolling up and down was often a dicey affair -- scrolling down usually worked, but we often had to lift our finger off the screen and try multiple times to get it to scroll up. Additionally, while video quality is largely comparable to what you'll see via Chromecast, buffering takes a bit longer, and we had playback issues during our brief testing with Plair 2. Hulu Plus and Netflix froze on us several times when trying to load content, and playback on Comcast's Xfinity app froze a couple times as well. We also played a bit of Angry Birds on the device, and found the experience enjoyable. Control via the companion app worked well, and we experienced none of the issues we had when streaming video.
In short, while the Plair 2 costs $14 more than Chromecast, it also offers a lot more functionality. The ability to run any Android app or game is really handy, and well worth the additional cash outlay. In general, the fact of the matter is that Chromecast is less expensive, currently streams video better than Plair does and its native app control paradigm is superior to Plair's proprietary remote. However, the ability to play games and run Android apps on the TV is valuable, and the company tells us that it's working on improving the user experience. That's good, because improvement's needed if it hopes to carve out some market space alongside Google's offering.