The scoop: Broadway set-top box, by Happauge Computer Works, about $160 (Amazon).
What is it? The Broadway device is a set-top box that connects to your home network (via wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi) and a TV source (antenna, cable or cable set-top box with an infrared blaster cable). When fully connected, users can stream live TV content from the box to any client device, including iPhones and iPads, or just regular old PCs or Mac notebooks. Like its Slingbox competitor, the Broadway unit lets you watch your home TV content when you're away from your home network, over the Internet.
The ability to record content to an attached USB drive is currently in beta - users can update their firmware and then try the recording feature, letting you turn the unit into a mini-DVR as well.
Why it's cool: Within the home, this is a way to make your TV content more mobile - you can watch your favorite shows in any room in the house (bathroom, bedroom, etc.) without needing an additional cable box or TV. When you're away from your home, this is a great way to watch things like sporting events (whenever I travel I usually can't watch local teams unless they're on a national broadcast).
Once configured, the software used by Happauge (it runs via the browser on all your client devices, no additional app downloads required) is mostly intuitive and responsive, save for some slight connection delays. Setup requires a wired connection (directly to the router or via a switch), but then you can configure the unit to connect to the router wirelessly.
Some caveats: Before you connect the Broadway to your network, make sure you optimize the gear that it will run on for the best results. If you just connect it to an additional TV (or not even a TV at all, just an extra cable line or antenna), your channel choices will be limited. Without a set-top cable box, I could only receive 50 "free" channels from my non-set-top-box cable, with such exciting options as Spanish-language television and about five different PBS channels. Sure, I got the four major networks, but any "cable" channels are off the list unless you connect via a cable box.
Connecting to that cable box requires the IR blaster cable, and it's not-very-sticky attachments. This also means that when you watch TV via the Broadway, others watching on the same TV might be surprised if the channel suddenly changes. My advice on this - connect the Broadway to a second TV with a cable box (usually for an extra fee) that you know isn't being used by family members regularly.
In my testing, I was very disappointed that the Broadway software had no information about my cable system's channel lineup or electronic programming guide. While some of the major systems are covered (Comcast, Time Warner, FiOS, etc.), my system (Charter) was not. This meant I had no TV show information available, and I had to manually enter channels into the software in order for the IR blaster to switch to that channel. With about 400 channels available to me, this could be a very time-consuming effort, or you end up just plugging in your favorite channels - but even that takes some time, and you still have no idea what show is on during any particular moment.
Bottom line: If you have a secondary cable set-top box that you can attach the Broadway unit to, and your cable/TV provider is covered by the system (again, major provider), then this can be a great alternative to Slingbox and similar offerings.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.
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This story, "Broadway Gizmo Brings Live TV to Your iPad, iPhone" was originally published by Network World.