Have you heard about Remote Potato yet? After we talked about its recent update on Entertainment 2.0 a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try. If you’re a Remote Potato user, you already know that it’s probably the best multi-platform solution to remotely access and manage your Windows Media Center. Through any web browser and a host of mobile devices, you can remotely schedule and manage your Recorded TV libary. Perhaps more importantly, you can stream recorded shows, music, photos, and videos remotely. Who needs Slingbox? Who needs Orb?
I was most interested in the app’s support for remote scheduling, since that’s something you used to be able to do through Microsoft’s own services but otherwise hasn’t been possible for a few years now. After installing the Remote Potato service on my Media Center and buying the $6.99 iPhone app, I quickly realized that it did much more than I had originally anticipated. And after less than a week, I uninstalled Orb, happy to have finally found a package that remotely streams SD and HD content with transcoded audio and proper aspect ratios. I can live without live tuner streaming. It never worked for my digital tuners, anyway.
This week, Remote Potato HD lands in Apple’s iTunes App Store (and the developer graciously provided us access to it prior to the release). As you might expect, this version of the app is specifically designed for the iPad. It brings a viewing experience to a device that’s perfect for mobile video consumption—over both WiFi and 3G. Sure, you could run the iPhone app on an iPad with the expected compromises, but once you use the guide and see the video on the HD app, you’ll never want to look back. During testing, I was so taken by the video quality, I become completely engaged in the content—forgetting that I was supposed to be working on a review. Even when testing on a remote server across the Atlantic, the video quality was outstanding, and playback was flawless.
Remote Potato HD sports all of the features and capabilities of its older iOS sibling, with one significant addition that could be a game-changer. Last month on Entertainment 2.0, I posited that if the Remote Potato app for iOS supported AirPlay, it could be used as a sort of bridging device between Windows Media Center and Apple TV. AirPlay is Apple’s solution for home streaming. If you’re familiar with Windows’ PlayTo feature—a simplified interface for DLNA streaming—you can think of AirPlay as a similar technology. AirPlay is built into iOS, and Apple’s popular 2nd-generation Apple TV accepts video streaming via AirPlay. When playing media on an iDevice, you can just select Apple TV as the target output device to stream from your device to the television.
Remote Potato HD introduces full Airplay audio and HD video streaming. An update to Remote Potato for iPhone and iPod Touch adds the same capability in standard definition. So with this app and an Apple TV, you can stream media that’s stored on your Windows Media Center to a big screen in another room. This would typically require a Media Center extender for $200 or more, but the combined cost of Apple TV and Remote Potato HD is just $107. (You may need to throw in an HDMI cable for another $20.) If you already own Apple TV, you can expand its reach, beyond your iTunes library, to include content on your Media Center.
With everything this new product has to offer, I can’t help but look forward to later generations of this app, hoping for greater UI refinement and stability. This product is more of a translation for the iPad than a true ground-up redesign that optimizes the experience for the tablet screen. There are a few views that are little more than wider versions of their iPhone counterparts, questionable page-snapping behavior makes the program guide more cumbersome to navigate than it should be, and the app crashed or hung during testing on a few occasions.
Non-the-less, there’s a lot to love here. It’s easy to get past some of this app’s rough, first-gen feel when you add up the capabilities the product offers and see the quality of the video. We can highly recommend this app for Windows 7 Media Center users who own iPads. And if you also have a 2nd-generation Apple TV, stop reading right now, go to iTunes, and buy Remote Potato HD.