Switched On: TakeTV is SanDisk's flash drive-in

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment. This week's marks the column's third anniversary:

Entering the market with smaller dimensions and a lower price than television bridge products such as Apple TV and the Xbox 360, SanDisk's TakeTV is unconcerned with DHCP, WPA, SSIDs and several alphabetical dalliances of IEEE 802.11. In fact, it eschews any kind of direct home network connection, returning to that tried-and-trod transfer known as "sneakernet." Using portable physical media as a liaison between devices goes back at least to the early days of the floppy disk and was revived a few years ago by the USB flash drive.

Indeed, the latter is at a basic level the portable component of Take TV, a large, flat flash drive with four or eight gigabytes of SanDisk's trusted flash technology. The flash drive component docks into a video adapter that connects to TVs, but can take advantage only of an S-Video connection at best. When not connected to the television, it also snaps into its own minimalist remote crowned with an oversized Play button.

By design, using TakeTV is very similar to using a flash drive; simply drag and drop video files onto the flash drive component. TakeTV is a certified DivX device and also supports XVID and MPEG-4. Videos shot with a Flip Video camcorder played back perfectly. However, the popular Windows and Mac formats of WMV and H.264 are not yet supported; Apple's Leopard instructional video was not recognized.

TakeTV provides a barebones list user interface; expect none of the smooth animations and reflections of Apple TV, which can cost twice as much but provides on-demand access to more of a consumer's media library. Eye candy aside, Take TV would benefit from the addition of thumbnails for video files as well as some polish of its user interface. To move up a folder in a hierarchy, for example, you select a folder labeled with two periods, a throwback to traversing old DOS directories.

In addition to shuttling personal and Internet video files, TakeTV is the first transport product compatible with Fanfare, SanDisk's entry into the TV and movie download arena. Fanfare represents the continuation of a shift for SanDisk, which leads the market for "open" PlaysForSure-compatible devices, but which has teamed up with service providers such as Rhapsody and Yahoo! Music for specialized MP3 players in the past for a more integrated experience. Currently in beta, Fanfare has a very limited selection of CBS and Showtime TV shows, but SanDisk notes that a deal with another major network is in the works.

TakeTV could be a convenient alternative to today's products that require the advanced infrastructure of a home network, but needs to step up beyond its first-generation digital media adapter user interface to broaden its appeal, particularly given its attractive price. In addition to supporting more video codecs and support for other content types (especially photos). SanDisk could enhance a second take of TakeTV it by enabling use of its popular portable music players with the TakeTV system, adopting an approach that DLO and others have taken in turning the iPod into a living room video playback device.

The race is on, though, as a new breed of imminent devices -- such as Sling Media's SlingCatcher and those using technology by Quartics -- will be able to use televisions to play practically any media resident on a laptop with less advance setup and without regard for video codecs or DRM.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group,. His blog can be read at Views expressed in Switched On are his own.