Stream Movies From Your PC to Your TV

By  |  Friday, September 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm

How Well Do They Work?

MediaGate MG-800HD: MediaGate’s device gives you lots of ways to get movies, pictures, and music to your TV. Here’s the stunner: When you finally get the MG-800HD configured correctly, it works as advertised.

When I first tried the MG-800HD, it found all the PCs on the network — mine, Judy’s, and my test notebook — but it couldn’t locate my network server. That was essential, because that’s where I store everything I want to watch.

Even after five years designing and manufacturing network media adapters, MediaGate sometimes releases products before they’re fully tested and ready for consumers. As late as spring 2009 — four months after the MG-800HD was released — MediaGate was still getting user complaints and releasing firmware updates. The help I received on MediaGate’s forum was terrific (thanks, guys), but it took a July firmware upgrade to solve my problem.

Nonetheless, the MG-800HD is a beauty. Accessing the network is fast and pictures are clear and sharp, With its Internet connection, I can scroll around YouTube and watch videos, play music from Live365, and tune in to Internet TV. Of course, now that the novelty of all that has worn off, all I do is watch movies and TV shows. And boy is that fun.

Not everything’s perfect. The remote is functional, but designed by the same orangutan who worked on the SlingCatcher’s remote (as you’ll read about in a sec). The layout isn’t smart. For instance, two of the buttons surrounding the Play/Pause button (see red arrows in image below) should control the volume. Instead, the bottoms stop the video and start the next (or previous) video. Unlike previous models MediaGate has released, the remotes allowed bookmarking anywhere within the video. This one automatically bookmarks when I close the file. And previous models allowed fast-forward to speeds of 32X, this one’s limited to 16X.

You have lots of ways to connect the MG-800HD to your TV: Composite, S-Video, HD components (Y, Pb, Pr at 480p, 720p, or 1080i), or HDMI (480p, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p). If you don’t have an HDTV, you can get away with the typical composite using an included yellow, white, and red cable. The MG-800HD supports 5.1 surround sound using the SPDIF digital audio output. And here’s a surprise: Because it’s connected to the Internet, it can also act as a BitTorrent client.

The delicious thing about the MG-800HD, in addition to being able to play high-definition video, is the number of video formats it supports. The standard ones are no biggie: .avi, .wmv, most versions of .mpg, .mp4, .asf, .m2ts, .mov, DivX, and H264 .avi. It can also play directly from .iso, .vob, .ifo, .tp, and .ts files. New to the 800HD is the ability to play the .mkv format, an alternative to .avi and .mp4, and more commonly seen; MediaGate has also licensed the RMVB codec from RealVideo. What all this gobbledygook means is the MG-800HD plays nearly everything you throw at it.

The MG-800HD gives you five ways to connect to the outside world. The easiest is to copy the videos onto an external hard drive and bring it into the room where the MG-800HD is connected to your TV. Connect the external drive to the MG-800HD’s USB 2.0 port, turn everything on, and start watching.

If you have an extra internal SATA or IDE drive, install it inside the MG-800HD. Copy movies from your PC to the MG-800HD and connect it to the TV.

If your network’s hard-wired, and you have a cable near the TV, you can use it to connect to the MG-800HD. It can also handle a Wi-Fi signal. My Wi-Fi router is close to the TV — about 25 feet — so the wireless signal was as good as when I used the hard-wired connection. Regrettably, the Bass International disclaimer is in effect: Mileage varies, so there’s no way to guarantee how your wireless connection will perform.

By the way, the MG-800HD’s predecessor, the MG-450HD, may be a cheaper alternative, if you can find one for sale. It has fewer codecs, and it doesn’t have Wi-Fi capabilities, but it’s adequate for most people. And it has a better remote.

Sling Media SlingCatcher: The SlingCatcher, using Sling Media’s SlingProjector feature, lets you play whatever’s on your PC’s monitor on your TV, and control it from the couch. So if you’re a Netflix subscriber, for instance, you can use its Watch Instantly feature.

On the PC side, Sling Media recommends the maximum video window size (not screen resolution) to capture is 1024 by 768, but 800 by 600 is best. You’ll need a fast PC: a 1.6-GHz Intel Core Duo CPU or 3-GHz Pentium IV with at least 1 GB RAM. SlingCatcher doesn’t capture Blu-ray video and it won’t work on 64-bit versions of Vista. It plays on the TV full-screen and the display quality is most times excellent, but depending on the source video, it can be just fair.

The SlingProjector software has to be downloaded because isn’t included with the SlingCatcher package. It took me about 20 minutes to configure the software and another 20 to understand how to use it. It really wasn’t all that traumatic.

It’s clear that the engineer who designed the remote hasn’t actually used it, and that was disappointing. The remote is V-shaped and awkward to use; it doesn’t sit comfortably in my hand. It functions flawlessly, though, because I can control the playback of the video on my PC just by pointing to the SlingCatcher.

The showstopper for some of you is the device requires a hard-wired network connection and a free port on your router. Silly, but true: It doesn’t have Wi-Fi capabilities (which even my next microwave oven probably will). [top]

Another downside is the SlingCatcher uses old technology. It was released early in 2009, but was in development for a couple of years before that, so it’s missing the ability to stream videos from your PC or server, as the MediaGate device can. While it can play videos from an external drive or Flash drive (which, amazingly, needs FAT32 formatting), it doesn’t have enough built-in video file formats to satisfy technophiles like me. It supports media formats, including WMV, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264 and Xvid, and handles other mainstream files such as .avi, .vob, .mpg, .mov, and .wma. But oddballs — .mkv, say — are beyond its capabilities.

Yet for $199 (down from $300, on the Sling site no less, and probably lower through discounters), the SlingCatcher does a great job at streaming video from your PC’s screen.

Next week: MediaGate’s latest portable media player, where to pick up movies and TV shows.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]



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15 Comments For This Post

  1. DaveZatz Says:

    The SlingCatcher is best used as a Slingbox extender. Unfortunately, the product didn’t live up the vision (and was a personal disapointment) with it’s extender-esque functionality.

    You may also want to look at something like the PS3 which utilizes uPnP or the Xbox’s builtin streaming functionality. These devices do multiple things which makes them more practical for many.

  2. Francis Lucas Says:

    Very good information. You might mention that 4 or 8 port switch will extend the ports on the back of the router in case their port count is short. Enjoyed the article; looking forward to the next; following you on Twitter. -Fran

  3. thepeng Says:

    Erm, not that spending hundreds of dollars on a device isn’t great, but what about my 8 dollar S-video cable, and my 3 dollar headphone to red/white audio splitter… I just hook my laptop up, press function and the little tv key, pop the remote out of the side and sit back. I do use VLC player(everyone who cares should really) so i can change the aspect ratio to whatever fits on my television properly.

  4. tovli toda Says:

    Now that you are getting dirty with real techy info, don’t forget Tivo with the open source project pyTivo. I wanted a way to watch 720 and 1080i HD at full quality from all the latest digital cameras that shoot HD, without investing in Blu-ray. The answer, Tivo pulls video from home computer via pyTivo server.

  5. Scot Grant Says:

    Well, hooking up the tv to the pc is not so hard.The harder part is finding the movies from legal sources.

  6. Pro Tech Says:

    Why, I must wonder in absolute amazement, would any intelligent creature go to all of this trouble? I have a 3.4 GHz PC with 2Gb memory sitting behind a 7Mb DSL HSIA. Inside I have a digital video card (Nvidia Gforce) that has a S-Video output. I have a 20″ Digital monitor cabled to the digital output AND (get this) a 32″ Sony analog TV which has a S-Video input on the video 1 port in the back. This is so cool, I set my Nvidia so my monitor is my preferred device and the TV is my second device, I can adjust settings for each independent of the other. The result? I can stream perfectly anything I can find online (as long as the other end is fast enough to keep up with me). for Fox TV programs works great, is a slow and jittery site, but is pretty good (but has a lot of the slow hulu programs). All in all, other than the original investment for the PC and video card (which was not purchased for this setup originally) I spent $40 for a 25′ S-Video cable and a 25′ 3.5mm audio cable so I didn’t have to move my PC from my work area to the living room. This my friends, is a cake walk. I can still work on my PC when the family wants to watch programs on TV.

  7. BN Says:

    PS3 or Xbox360 will also do this.

  8. Ben L. Says:

    My solution cost me $0. I just plug in my PC to my big screen via RGB and leave VLC running full screen. I use avc streamer ( to manage and stream all my videos. I remotely control all my media from a laptop or my iphone. The best part is that I can watch and stream live tv using avcstreamer connected via firewire to my set top box. avcstreamer streams my current channel to anywhere I am through the internet – even at 720p – its very good quality at about 2 Megabits per sec. I can stream any channel I'm watching to my iphone at much lower bandwidths, even works over 3g most of the time.

  9. Jesse Says:

    I really enjoy the MG-800HD also. I'm using an S-Video cable and the images and videos are coming out great. I haven't used the SlingCatcher at all so I have no personal experience with it, but I've heard some negative feedback about it elsewhere so I had went with the MG-800HD also.

  10. TV Guy Says:

    The WII has finally caught up to the XBOX and PS3 and can stream Netflix.

  11. Um ok Says:

    Xbox 360 arcades are probably one of the cheapest options out there. You can pick up an Arcade now for around $100-$150 for the older units, hook up an external hard drive or stream from your PC (various networking options vary in price from next to $0 if your router is close to your Xbox to $30-$75 in setting up a Wireless N bridge using DD-WRT) through TVersity, and stream Netflix through Xbox Live. If you want Blu Ray, you can pick up a PS3 for around $300 that can do everything the Xbox can do plus no Live subscription charges ($40 a year if you buy a 12 month card on sale) and it has Wifi built in.

    The WD Live and other media player boxes are pretty cheap and easy too, but if you have any interest at all in playing games Xbox/PS3 are definitely the way to go.

    All of these are about as good or even better options than the ones presented in this post.

  12. Sven Kremer Says:

    Thanks for posting this, this is working great! Thanks!

  13. Msmith31 Says:

    How and why were you kicked out?

  14. Peter Frambois Says:

    Very helpful commentary, although with a lot of redundancy at the beginning which made me think when will this self-loving guy finally start reviewing the gadgets?

  15. Bruce55 Says:

    I know this is an old post but I found a cool gadget called Wireless Media Stick. Check them out

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