SanDisk is already well known for their flash memory products and MP3 players, so it’s no wonder that they would enter into an important but relatively docile sector of the consumer entertainment industry – digital video for the TV. Apple hit the ground running with the Apple TV, but SanDisk’s new entry – the Sansa TakeTV – will challenge big red’s product. Despite fewer features than Apple TV, the TakeTV may win quite a few converts because of simplicity and price. We gave the TakeTV a thorough testing and have a full report for you. Read on to see if the TakeTV is something you’ll want to use at home.
Features and Design
When first looking at the Sansa TakeTV it can be unsettling to imagine how such a simple and diminutive device could work. DVD players, VCRs (people really do still use them) and cable boxes are pretty huge. Even the Apple TV is relatively large with it’s 7″x 7″ frame. Then we see the TakeTV. The main components – the remote and the receiver – are both narrower and thinner than the Motorola RIZR cell phone, albeit just slightly taller. Placing the TakeTV next to a DVD player is like placing a gallon of milk next to a wine barrel. There’s such a difference in size, weight and portability.
Why is it so small? There’s no hard drive, no internal power supply, no portly or complex innards – just a thin wafer remote, a flash drive with more housing than circuitry, a thin receiver and attached cables. The trio of parts only weighs 0.11 pounds and measures about 4.55″ x 1.5″ x 0.45″.
The TakeTV, as of this writing, comes in two sizes – 4GB and 8GB. The 4GB version costs about $100 USD and offers up to 5 hours of video content (though smart encoders could probably squeeze more time). The 8GB costs about $150 USD and can hold up to 10 hours of content.
One of the best things about the TakeTV is that it doesn’t require any software. No iTunes, no Media Player, nothing. Just drag and drop your DivX, Xvid and other MPEG-4 files (e.g. AVI files with Xvid codec) onto the TakeTV USB 2.0 flash drive, move the flash drive from your computer to the TakeTV receiver and switch your TV to the RCA or S-Video input. Instant content.
The TakeTV has cables built into it. Granted, the TakeTV uses S-Video or RCA for video and RCA for audio, whereas the Apple TV uses higher quality component or HDMI. But the picture quality, as discussed later, stands up to critique. RCA and S-Video cables are on the lower side of the evolutionary scale when it comes to modern tech devices, but it’s inexpensive, ubiquitous and reliable; maybe the next gen TakeTV will have HDMI.
So what does the TakeTV play? It supports any DivX, Xvid or other MPEG-4 based video content. The video res maxes out at 720×576 and audio tops at 128kbps. This means that it looks good for TV shows and compressed movies, but it’s not HD quality. The TakeTV can play 4:3 or 16:9 videos. It’s also able to play both NTSC (US) and PAL (EU) profiles.
One potentially confusing aspect of the TakeTV is the power cord and adapter. With the tiny size of the TakeTV, one wouldn’t expect to need an external power source. Right next to the RCA and S-Video cables is a female power plug. Connect the wall charger to a wall outlet and the male end of the power cord into the female adapter. The blue light on the TakeTV receiver will illuminate, indicating that the device is powered up. Perhaps a AAA battery or thin rechargeable would have been a better solution. It’s another design suggestion for the next gen TakeTV.
What’s in the Box?
For $100 or $150 USD, you get the TakeTV player/flash drive, integrated remote control, TakeTV receiver cradle with integrated cables and an AC power adapter. On the flash drive you’ll find a PDF version of the user manual and a .exe file for installing optional “Fanfare” software.
The SanDisk Sansa TakeTV is small, and features a remote control
Setup and Use
Setting up the Sansa TakeTV is neither complex nor time consuming. It’s super easy, which is one of the best things about the product. Unbox everything and separate all the parts into a neat row in front of you. The receiver unit (with all the cables attached) should get plugged into the RCA plugs on your TV. If you have an S-Video input on your TV, use the S-Video cable on the TakeTV receiver. Plug the red & white RCA cables into their respective jacks on the TV. Again, there are two options: 1) plug the yellow, red and white RCA plugs into the TV jacks, or 2) plug the S-Video cable and the red & white cables into the TV jacks. According to SanDisk, using the S-Video cable is better. When we tested it, there was little to no difference in content playback when using full RCA or S-Video, so the choice is up to you.
Once the TakeTV receiver is properly plugged in to your TV, plug the wall adapter into an outlet near the TV. Ideally, plug it into a surge protector along with your TV and other components. Plug the male end of the power cord into the female power receiver cord on the TakeTV unit. When the power cord is connected, a soft blue light will turn on, letting you know that the TakeTV receiver is powered up and ready to go.
Connecting the TakeTV to your TV is simple
Retract the TakeTV USB flash drive from the remote (with the big blue play button at the top) by sliding it downward with a little finger pressure. The drive will disconnect, revealing the full remote keypad. From this point forward, there’s no real reason to re-connect the flash drive with the remote, unless you’re traveling with it and want to minimize the number of separate parts going into baggage.
With the flash drive in hand, plug it into a USB port on your computer. In a moment, the flash drive will show up on your desktop (or in Windows Explorer) as “TakeTV”. Manually drag and drop your video content onto the drive. Be sure it’s compatible video – DivX, Xvid, MPEG-4 (including some AVI files if the correct codec is used). (If it’s incompatible video, there’s no risk of damage or error – the video just won’t play or show up on the TV screen).
Once content is transferred to the flash drive, disconnect it from your computer and plug it in to the TakeTV receiver unit by your TV. Switch your TV to the proper input and the blue Sansa screen will appear on your TV. If you moved compatible videos onto the flash drive, they’ll be listed in an alphabetical menu on your TV. Use the little TakeTV remote to scroll up and down the list to find the video you want to play. Use the “enter” button or the big blue “play” button on the remote to start watching video. That’s it. It’s that easy!
You can play, pause, forward and rewind through videos. You can press the “i” button for info on the video – name, encoding, time position, minute count, etc. The “menu” button will provide a screen wherein you can modify any necessary settings, like 4:3 or 16:9 video (default settings should automatically switch between the two). During video playback, you can press the “mode” button to change the dimensions of the video to fill the screen, play the entire video within any applicable margins, etc.
Controlling the TakeTV with the remote can be frustrating
The only real disappointment we experienced using the TakeTV was the inconsistent remote action. Click, nothing. Click, nothing. Click, play. Craning our arms to various angles to get the remote to activate the receiver options should not have been necessary. The IR port on the receiver side was in direct line of sight and about 12 feet away. Other than this genuine frustration, the TakeTV performed all its intended functions with class.
With most digital video devices, playback quality hinges on the bit rate and quality of the original source, as well as the bit rate of the output video file. High quality content converted to “Home Theater” DivX looked awesome on our 42″ LG widescreen TV. Pixilation was minimal, colors were as good as or better than standard TV, and there were no instances of video skipping or stuttering. Content downloaded from SanDisk’s Fanfare service varied – more popular, main-stream shows were very clean and smooth, whereas B-list content was embarrassingly pixilated and splotchy. Home-converted video will probably trump Fanfare downloaded content, at least for a while.
Wireless or Streaming?
Nope. These are not the intended uses for the tiny TakeTV. TakeTV is meant to be a sneaker net device, which means you walk it from your computer to your TV. While some people may complain that the TakeTV doesn’t have wireless built in like the Apple TV, others will realize that this is part of the elegant simplicity of the TakeTV.
MP3s or Photos?
Sorry. This version of the TakeTV is for video only – no MP3s and no JPG images. Even though a call to SanDisk’s tech support center resulted in an affirmation that MP3s should work (based on the MPEG codec family), the empirical evidence says ‘no’. Perhaps a future revision of the TakeTV device will include JPG stills and MP3/WMA audio. For now, just recite the name of the product to remember that it’s intended for TV – video.
Mac or PC?
On the product packaging and even in some press release materials, Windows XP and Vista are mentioned as system requirements. The TakeTV will work with ANY operating system because it’s just a flash drive. It works just as well on the MacBook Pro as it does on any PC. The only caveat – the Fanfare program only works on XP or Vista. And yes, it’ll work fine through Parallels or Boot Camp.
SanDisk set up a new service called “Fanfare”. It’s like a video-on-demand service that allows you to go online (using the included software for Windows XP and Vista) and download DRM-protected content to play on your TV via the TakeTV device. It’s in beta stages right now, but it has plenty of decent content from CBS, Showtime, Smithsonian, Weather Channel, etc. As time rolls on (and if the service survives) content options will expand dramatically.
The program installer is about 7.4MB. The setup process takes about 3 minutes and requires Adobe Flash player on your system. (The installer performs a compatibility check and will advise you of any necessary items.) Once the software is installed, you’ll be prompted to register for the Fanfare service. You’ll be asked for your DOB, name and email address.
Once logged in to Fanfare, browsing content is easy – scroll up or down through the different network channels. Click the + symbol to download content directly to the TakeTV flash drive. Fanfare content isn’t all free. For example, a recent episode of CSI Miami (43 minutes, 552MB) has a standard price of $1.99 USD, but was marked as “Free Limited Time Only”. Frankly, $1.99 for a single episode of a TV show seems crazy but it’s the going price, even on iTunes. Some short films were on the Fanfare site for $4.99 and the rest of the content was either free or temporarily free (probably due to beta status). Files downloaded from the Fanfare service are DRM protected and have a files extension of “.smbv”.
The online “Fanfare” service is completely optional. Use it for existing content, all of which looks great and play beautifully. You can also hook yourself up with a DivX conversion program and all your home videos can be converted for use on the TakeTV. DivX Pro costs about $20 and works well.
SanDisk’s Sansa TakeTV is a fun little device for taking video content off the computer and putting it on TV. Its size and weight makes it amazingly simple to transport from one TV set to another. If you have more than one TV at home, or if you want to take the TakeTV to a friend’s house, it’s a matter of seconds to disconnect and reconnect the device.
There’s no complex wireless connection to set up. It’s plug & play and almost 100% dummy proof. It’s a basic “sneaker net” version of the Apple TV, which makes the TakeTV absolutely perfect for people who want a simple, easy to figure out, easy to use, no hassle device that can still deliver great looking video.
The Sansa TakeTV will probably not appeal to videophiles who demand full HD for all their content, however this device is not intended for that audience – yet.
The TakeTV would make an awesome (and affordable) Christmas present for the geek or TV addict in your life. It’s a gift that would keep on giving.
• Super easy to set up & use
• Excellent quality video
• Tiny, unobtrusive and sleek design
• Plays DivX, Xvid and MPEG-4-based video
• Hardware works on standard & widescreen TVs
• Use hardware with Mac, PC, Linux, etc.
• Easy to move between TVs
• Awesome for business presentations or mobile displays
• Plays DRM and non-DRM content
• Fanfare software is XP/Vista only
• Does not do HD content
• No photos or MP3s yet