Sunday, August 22, 2010

Telco IPTV View: Networking the Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray Player

Telco IPTV View: Networking the Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray Player

I couldn't find the manual either. I found the manual for the VBR220 to be close enough. You can find it at:


USB Media Port

The VBR231 has a USB port on the front. You can insert an USB memory into it. If you have .jpg photos or MP3's on the USB memory, you can play them on your TV using DVD player. You can set up a slide show with the .jpg's or play the MP3s by selecting them from a menu.

This works fine and is easy to use, assuming that you can find your way around the menus. The DVD has no capability for rotating photos into the correct orientation. You can do that using the Windows Explorer on a PC before inserting the USB memory into the DVD.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blu-ray disk

We watched our first Blu-ray disk yesterday - Quantum of Solace. Video quality definitely better than a DVD. We were watching on a 42" Vizio LCD TV. I think the experience would have something on a really large screen.

The dynamic range of the audio seems to be quite a bit larger than a DVD. We had to lower the volume during the chases and other noisy parts and raise it in the quiet parts. I am sure that other viewers will like the dynamic range.

It also seemed that the processing delays on the Blu-ray disk were longer than on a DVD. Not a significant issue.

The improved video quality of the Blu-ray disks together with the streaming capabilities of the VBR231 make it well worth the $150 we spent on it, at least for us.

Networking Problems Resolved

The VBR231 now locks on to the WiFi network right after it is turned on. It is doing this quite reliably. I do not notice any networking problems when I stream videos. My laptop is now in the same room and shows "Excellent Signal Strength" and an available speed of 24 Mbps, so there is some degradation. This seems to be more than adequate.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Netflix Browsing

I found out how to browse Netflix's library of streaming titles from the TV. You press the up arrow on the remote and then the right or left arrows to select a category. If you select a video, it displays a description. You can then start it up if you want to see what it is about.

Vudu Services

I have started using the Vudu service. It includes Vudu for video on demand. It supports a number of services that include Facebook, Twitter, flickr, Picasa, Associated Press, New York Times, Weather, Wikipedia, and Stock Tracker. 

I like the videos available from the New York Times website. They are interesting and informative. The AP text  posts are also interesting.


The VBR231 has had trouble initially linking up to the WiFi network after powering up. It won't connect and the user interface becomes sluggish. After powering it off and on again, it will connect immediately.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preliminary Ratings for the Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray Player

Here are my initial thoughts on how the Vizio VBR231 stacks up:
  • Playing Blu-ray disks:    not yet rated
  • Playing DVDs:              not yet rated
  • Network setup:             D due to requirement to support Shared WEP
  • Network operation:       C due to connection difficulties that have not been resolved yet
  • Service Availability:       B due to limited set of applications supported
  • Service set up:              A  very easy
  • Service operation:         A easy to use
Over all I am happy with the unit for my purposes, especially at the $150 price point that includes WiFi. I think that Vizio has some work to do on the WiFi support so that it fits more easily into home networks. At a minimum, Vizio should support Open WEP.

Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray Over the Top Service

The Vizio supports Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and media viewing.

Netflix is easy to use and to set up. When you start it gives you a code that you enter into the Netflix website. Once you do that, the Netflix menu appears. You add videos to the Instant queue in Netflix and these videos are displayed on your TV through the VBR231. You then select the video that you want to watch and it starts up. You can pause and restart videos at any time. If you interrupt a video it will give you the option to restart it at that point when you watch it again.

Pandora has a similar set up interface. It gives you a code that you enter into Pandora's website. You then can set up "stations" based on the kinds of music you like. You can set up stations from the TV or from your computer. I set up a Miles Davis station and Pandora did a pretty good job selecting music.

I have not done anything with Vudu. I did test putting a USB memory into the USB slot on the front of the Vizio but have not tested playing any media this way.

The player also supports BD-Live that provides online content in conjunction with a Blu-ray disk. I have not tested this feature yet.

Networking the Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray Player

I was apparently able to get the WiFi on the Vizo Blu-ray player up right away. I started to stream a movie. The first sign of a problem was that it complained about the speed of the network connection. I watched the video for about 10 minutes without a problem.

I then started to explore other features. I started using Pandora and found that it would not reliably stream audio. Later on, I found that the Vizio would not maintain a WiFi connection.

Yesterday morning I read the manual and noticed that the Vizio supports only Shared WEP. I changed my WiFi router to shared WEP. The Vizio connected to the WiFi easily after that and maintained stable connections.

Shared WEP provides an inferior level of security and Windows 7 will let you use it only by making a manual connection. I had to do this for both of our computers. The Microsoft Help screens were not accurate and it took me a while to figure out how to do it.

Yesterday afternoon I had trouble establishing a WiFi connection. I think it was because a file backup operation was saturating the WiFi network. After I interrupted the backup, I had no trouble establishing a stable connection and was able to watch a video for about 40 minutes. The video started quickly and streamed without any problems. Video quality was good, it seemed to be better than streaming directly from a laptop.

Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray with Over the Top Support

Last Saturday we saw the Vizio VBR231 Blu-ray player at Costco (a large warehouse retail operation) for $150 for the first time. It supports Netflix streaming and includes WiFi support. This was $75 less than a similar Sony unit that Costco has carried for a while. We bought it.

When we got the VBR231 home it would not power on. I was able to reach Vizio's support Sunday morning and after trying a few things, she said that I should return it. I took it back to Costco on Sunday and the new one worked. It played a DVD just fine.

Watching Netflix on the TV using the Laptop

We watched four or five videos streamed from Netflix using the computer. The first couple worked fine. Image quality was significantly below what we experience from DVD's and from over the air digital broadcast. However, the convenience factor was strong enough overcome the degraded image quality. The last two we watched caused the laptop to lock up and crash after between 10 to 30 minutes. This required a reboot and was very annoying. Most people would have given up after one or two crashes and decided that using a computer to stream Netflix just did not work.

This soured us on the experience and we did not go back to it. I would rate our viewing experience as a D due to the crash. I would rate the quality a C+.

Connecting the TV to the Laptop

The first challenge was to connect our Gateway laptops to the TV. We bought an inexpensive six foot HDMI cable on Amazon.

Our laptops are now two years old and were delivered with Vista. We upgraded to Windows 7 as soon as it came out last October. We experienced a lot of instability with Vista, especially on my wife's computer. She uses Kodak EasyShare to manage her extensive photo library. EasyShare is pretty unstable and would take Vista down frequently, too often corrupting the file system. Windows 7 has been much more stable. It catches the EasyShare failures without crashing or corrupting the file system.

I did have a disk failure a month or so after upgrading to Windows 7. I made a clean Windows 7 install at that time without first loading Gateway's Vista first. I then loaded all of the drivers that Gateway said I should use. However, the sound card driver that I loaded did not support the HDMI interface. This left this computer able to display video on the TV but without audio.

I had a difficult time getting Gateway to address this problem. The standard answer was that I had to go back and load Gateway's Vista on the computer and test it that way. They would not address problems with Windows 7. I even got this useless answer from the paid support group I had signed up with to solve my disk problems last December. Pretty disappointing.

I kept after them via their email support and after a number of iterations they sent me a new audio driver that solved the problem. This audio driver included an HDMI option. The only problem is that I would have to go into the Control Panel every time I wanted to watch a video on the TV and select the HDMI driver. I would then have to change it back when I was not through. This is OK for a geek like me, but not for my wife or any other ordinary consumer.

I would rate this set up process a D- because I came close to giving up. My wife's computer had this driver already loaded on it, so I would rate the set up as a C on her computer. I would rate the operation a C on both computers because it is necessary to manually change the sound settings.

Netflix the Driver

We had given up our Netflix subscription for about two years because we were not watching the DVDs we received. They would come and sit around the house for months. (Netflix is the US web-based service that sends out requested DVDs using postal mail. The DVDs are selected using a web interface. It was a natural extension of the Netflix service to offer over the top, Internet delivered streaming video delivery as well as postal delivery.)

The availability of streamed delivery over the Internet that would allow us to select a movie to watch immediately was a major factor in attracting us back to Netflix. We could buy a DVD player, a DVR, or a special set top box that supports the Netflix streaming service. Our laptops have HDMI interfaces and could support the Netflix streaming service as well.

We decided to start with our laptops. That would provide a good feasibility test, especially for our WiFi network.

New Over the Top Emphasis

I stopped following the Telco IPTV market last year when I retired and closed down TelecomView. I have maintained an interest in over the top IPTV services and have started using it myself. I will now use this blog to document my experiences.

I cut the cable and converted to over the air broadcast services several years ago. I have been pleased by the variety of digital channels that are available here in San Francisco and see no need to pay $100 per month or more for a cable or satellite service, especially when I can get HD broadcasts from the major networks for free.

I did want to subscribe to AT&T's U-verse IPTV service. Microsoft even offered to pay for my subscription since I was an analyst covering this space. However, the City of San Francisco and AT&T reached an impasse that caused AT&T to decide not to offer U-verse in San Francisco. Given the size of the remotes required, I cannot blame the city for objecting. At this point I would not put the money out for the service, even if I could get it.

I will follow this post with others that discuss my experience with bringing video services to my TV over the Internet.