The box, which is made by Thomson, retails for $200, and costs $22 a month if you want to use it with MSN's dial-up
service, and $10 a month as add-on for a broadband connection. It's pretty simple: power, composite/S-Video outs, USB,
Ethernet, and a telephone jack. So yeah, it's safe to say some things haven't really changed when it comes to Web/MSN
TV. It's definitely still designed with the non-tech savvy user in mind, but they've definitely given it a lot more
meat to make it viable in the battle for the living room.
What you get: keyboard (not pictured) with batteries, remote with batteries, phone splitter, phone cable, composite
cable, adapter, user and setup guides, and, of course, the box.
The unit was pretty straight forward setup, not a lot of frills, nothing unnecessary, just like you'd expect from a
set-top box. Get your keyboard and mouse batteries goin', plug the unit into your router, cable modem or phone and TV,
turn it on, boom, you're on your way.
Creating a user account is also pretty quick, just the typical boring form data entry stuff. Once you're done
verifying your credit card info and the like, you log on, and you're free to roam. There's not a whole lot to mess up
The machine functions very smoothly out of box, and is amply equipped with a 733MHz
Celeron, 128MB of RAM, 64MB of Flash ROM, and Windows CE, for instant-on access. It streams from out-of-the-box
compatible Windows Media Player formats (MPEG2, AVI, MP3, WAV, etc.) and uses IE 6.0. There did not appear to be much
lag at all when doing basic browsing and media playback, and everything worked more or less without a hitch. The
broadband certainly made the whole experience a whole lot less painless—I think the one-two combo of TV-internet and
dialup speeds was really too much for all but the most determined or unwitting users to put up with, so the speed boost
is most welcomed and appreciated on this type of device.
Of course, what is missing from the machine is integrated Wireless communications (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.), a memory
card reader, and, dare we say, even a hard drive, but we suppose these were all cut out to keep the machine's costs
down. However, even one of them—especially wireless functionality—would have been an immensely useful addition.
Use and ease of use
The system, once logged on, is very simple. If you can understand what
the Internet is and does (in broad terms, of course), then you can get how this thing works. Browsing was all pretty
decent. There's really no way to get around the extremely low NTSC resolution, so as always, expect a lot of your
favorite pages to range between hurtin' and near-unreadable, but usually useable to a good enough
We think it may have a bit too much screen clutter for GM+GP, but it was all pretty well confined, and the menus and
submenus never get too deep.
Email is easy, and it was very clear that they were trying to make it as simple for GM+GP as possible.
The one aspect I worried about was the complexity of was the network file sharing (for streaming media from network
drive shares) for the less networking-friendly audience, but it worked pretty seamlessly. It automatically scans for
NetBIOS/SMB-enabled machines, populates a list, and then lets you choose which to connect to. From there, open the
media player in question (be it photo, video, or music) and source your files from the drive share.
MSN TV 2 didn't like playing all our media, however, but what can you do? One wouldn't exactly expect the MSN TV 2 to
try to hook itself up with a DiVX codec or anything. Most of the rest worked alright, though.
If you don't have any video of your own to stream across the network, there are short clips accessible from MSN TV's
networks. We were, however, pretty disappointed the system's lack broadband connection detection, as the video clips
offered were extremely small, extremely poor quality, and rather short (read: wonderful for dialup users only).
Everything in interacting with the system was pretty simple and redundant; most buttons on screen had hard key
equivalents, which is convenient, because navigating a computer-like interface without a mouse can get tedious at
times. The IR pickup of the box was pretty decent—especially for the mouse—but the keyboard had a slight bit of
trouble, and didn't always receive keystrokes when typing quickly. This is a spot where Bluetooth would have really
come in handy, but it's not really like anyone expected that to show up in MSN TV 2.
The mouse could have been a little weightier, and looks a little chinsey and boring against the benchmark TiVo remote,
but it did its job well enough. The buttons were distinct to the touch, and had a tactile feel when being pressed, and
there weren't too many by any means.
The keyboard was pretty weighty (a bit more than we'd have expected, even), but felt like pretty much any other
keyboard otherwise. The function keys were respectfully replaced with feature keys, and they even blessed users with
dedicated page resize, refresh, and print buttons (among others).
As mentioned, it also features two USB ports for such things as memory card readers (for importing your digital
photos, naturally) and USB WiFi adapters, in case you don't want or can't get a wired connection. How nice of them. Too
bad they didn't incorporate a standard driver set for these things, so when you plug in your device, you must already
have a connection established in order to get the proper drivers. However, at least retrieving the drivers was done
automatically, but it was a little disheartening for an out-of-box solution.
We're operating on a couple of assumptions here being that you're reading Engadget: first is that
overdrive-ease-of-use probably isn't your number one priority, and second is that you're probably not reading from a
TV-based browser. That said, the MSN TV 2 a pretty well equipped, very easy to use TV-set top with a solid foundation
of multimedia playing capabilities. About this much we can't complain. So if you're thinking about getting it for
GM+GP, no worries, it's a pretty dead-lock. If they can learn some rudimentary concepts, this may be easier for them
than a Mac.
But if you're thinking about getting this for yourself for the networked multimedia capabilities, move straight on and
put your money into something more like Viewsonic's new
WMx series. If you want a decent all-around
internet-capable machine and you don't want to have to plunk down to buy a proper box (which, admittedly, would only be
about $200 more for something pretty decent) then the MSN TV 2 may be for you; just don't get your hopes up, web on the
TV isn't due to get really good until we're all running HDTV and have hefty pipes from the Net to the home.