The ViewQwest TV 4K streaming media player was touted as a game-changer at its launch.
Produced by local Internet service provider ViewQwest, this media streamer comes integrated with ViewQwest's Freedom VPN service that lets users bypass geographical locks on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.
Previously, Freedom VPN was available only to ViewQwest subscribers. But now that it comes bundled with the media streamer, you do not have to subscribe to ViewQwest for Freedom VPN, opening the service to subscribers of other broadband providers.
The media streamer includes a year's subscription to Freedom VPN. Subsequently, you have to pay ViewQwest $10.70 a month to continue using Freedom VPN.
To enable Freedom VPN on the ViewQwest TV, you simply click a button within the preloaded DNS login app. It is that simple. There is no need to configure your home router or devices, unlike with typical VPN services.
The built-in Freedom VPN service worked over the StarHub broadband network without any issues. It took around the same time as the ViewQwest network to start streaming videos from the US version of Netflix.
In addition, the ViewQwest TV is preloaded with over 20 popular video-streaming apps, ranging from US-based Hulu and Netflix to China-based LeTV and PPTV. However, you usually have to sign up - and pay - for these services separately.
Admittedly, it is not difficult for tech-savvy users to sideload these apps themselves as the ViewQwest TV runs on Android KitKat, which lets users install apps from an external USB drive. In fact, you can basically get a similar experience by installing a third-party VPN app on an Android TV box. But it is probably not as convenient.
These preloaded apps are tablet or smartphone versions and so are not optimised for TV.
My main quibble with the ViewQwest player is in the navigation of the apps. The bundled TV remote has an integrated trackpad. While the trackpad helps, especially if you surf the Internet using the ViewQwest TV, it is not as accurate or as responsive as a mouse.
There were times when I really wanted to throw the remote at the screen in frustration.
The ViewQwest TV can also do with a restart button. The remote's power button appears to only put the media streamer to sleep. The device does not support a microSD card, though it has a decent 8GB of storage.
While the ViewQwest TV supports 4K media playback, it can output these videos at only 30 frames per second (fps). This is unlike the Nvidia Shield Android TV and the Roku 4, which can both play 4K videos at 60fps. More importantly, the ViewQwest TV cannot stream 4K videos from Netflix.
Compared with ViewQwest's previous media streamer, the current model loads faster and is more responsive because of better hardware. However, its Wi-Fi 802.11n adapter is not as advanced as the 802.11ac adapters on the Apple, Nvidia and Roku media streamers.
At $299, the ViewQwest TV may seem relatively pricey. But if you exclude the bundled Freedom VPN service, the actual cost of the hardware (around $128) is fairly reasonable.
• The Android-powered ViewQwest TV is not as polished as its rivals.But its bundled VPN service makes it a viable choice for less tech-savvy users.
TECH SPECSPRICE: $299INTERFACES: Ethernet,3 x USB 2.0, HDMI 1.4STORAGE: 8GBWIRELESS: Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band, Bluetooth 4.0WEIGHT: 245g
RATINGFEATURES: 3/5DESIGN: 3/5PERFORMANCE: 3/5VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
This article was first published on Jan 27, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.