Toshiba Places hands-on
Toshiba's 2011 TV lineup will include Toshiba Places - the brand's new cloud-based internet TV portal that's designed to share content across multiple devices such as TVs, tablets, and laptops.
We managed to get a sneak preview of the service back in February 2011, and we also managed to get some more hands-on time at Toshiba's recent product showcase where it was confirmed that the service will be included on TVs in the REGZA UL, SL, VL, WL and YL ranges.
Unlike many of its rival brands' web TV services such as Panasonic's Viera Connect and LG's Smart TV, the idea behind Toshiba Places is that you're not just limited to using it on your TV. You can also access the service via the web browser on your computer and that gives you a range of content including music, news and catch-up services. In theory, you should be able to start watching a video on your computer, pause it, and then the service will remember this so that the next time sign in with your unique ID, even if it's from a different device, you'll be able to pick up where you left off. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to try out this particular aspect, but if it works as Toshiba says it will, then it's certainly a handy feature to have.
The interface itself looks great - attractively designed and simple to understand and certainly good enough to stand up to the internet TV services offered by its rivals. Navigating from one feature to the next is nice and easy thanks to the logical, icon-based system. We did find that opertation seemed a little sluggish although that was probably due to the dodgy wi-fi at the event venue, rather than the software itself, so we'll give Toshiba the benefit of the doubt until we can try it out properly
Toshiba has offered a web TV service in the past, albeit a fairly basic one with access to a few ring-fenced widgets such as news and weather. It always seemed like a bit of an afterthought, as did the early internet TV services from most of the big brands. However, Toshiba has clearly put a lot of effort into its new service whih is split into the following sections or 'Places' - the word Toshiba has chosen to represent a series of hubs.
This part of Toshiba's new offering is where you'll be able to subscribe to video-on-demand services and also watch pay-per-view videos. The UK launch lineup includes Turner Broadcasting Group brands such as the Cartoon Network, along with Box Office 365. We expect that a few more partners, hopefully including some more well-known brands, will be in place in time for the launch. We would hope to see brands such as Lovefilm joining the party at some point, because at the moment, tha lack of big names is a litle disappointing.
As the name suggests, this is where you can download and stream music. This is powered by 7digital on the PC which means that you'll be able to access a pretty impressive selection of MP3s. However, this is currently limited to PC use, while the TV will only offer the ComFM interent radio and podcast portal. The inclusion of internet radio capability on the TV is certainly a nice touch, but it's a shame that you can only download music from your PC.
Although the name would imply that this section offers plenty of social networking apps, its doesn't. At least not yet. According to Toshiba, compatibility with "popular social networks" will be introduced to Places later in the year, which we're guessing means Facebook and Twitter, at the very least. In the meantime, the Social section will let you upload and share videos and photos using Flickr and Dailymotion.
This is a TV-only section that will offer access to news and sport, along with other, as yet un-named, information services.
This is where you can check out what's on using the TV guides or watch TV catch-up services with BBC's iPlayer on board for the launch. Obviously this is a TV-only portion. The interface takes the form of a traditional EPG so it's pretty easy to get to grips with.
You can download games for online play, although this will only be possible using your PC, not the TV. This section will be powered by Wildtangent, so there's a possiblity that you'll have access to thousands of games, although it has yet to be confirmed whether you'll have access to the full catalogue.
As with the Games Place, this one will let you purchase and download apps from Toshiba's online store, although once again you'll be able to do this from a PC, and not from your TV.
The least exciting sounding of the bunch, Services Place is where you can do sensible things like purchase extended and enhanced warranties and access data recovery services. Again, this one is PC-only.
Although we saw the service in action, we didn't get the chance to download anything or test out the video bookmarking. However, the fact that Toshiba Places can be used across different devices is definitely an advantage. But, when it comes to apps and widgets, it's all about content and Toshiba will need to get a lot more big-name third-party apps on board if it's to have any chance of competing with the web TV services offered by rival brands.
Toshiba has said that it will be expanding and developing the service during 2011 with additional 'Places' and social networking apps planned in for the coming months.
The first TVs to include Toshiba Places (the REGZA SL and UL ranges) are due to hit the UK in May.
Are you looking forward to the launch of Toshiba Places? Or will your internet TV pennies be spent elsewhere?