Almost two years ago, I labeled Monsoon Multimedia's HAVA Titanium HD (a device similar to the more well-known Slingbox) "a nice idea, but not a must-have device." Ever since that assessment, the folks at Monsoon have been doing everything in the power to prove me wrong, in part by fixing some of the problems I first noted (but never having released the promised USB TV Tuner which still seems like an important item). And now, they've released what could prove one day to be the "killer app," the software application that will prove to be that elusive "must-have" and dynamically alter the field (and it works with more than just the Titanium HD model).
This new, potentially devastating to the competition application? An iPhone application, HAVA Mobile Player, which allows Wi-Fi connected iPhone owners to send their HAVA's signal to the phone. Forget having to lug a laptop to Hawaii so that one can watch New York television while on vacation – now, if one's iPhone is connected to the hotel's Wi-Fi, they can watch whatever they want (generally speaking)!
Starting with the answer to what is without a doubt the most important question first – good, the playback looks good. Using a HAVA connected to a VCR and therefore running standard definition television, an iPhone on a wholly separate network from the HAVA is absolutely watchable. It doesn't seem to run at 30 FPS, but it is certainly watchable. Video does occasionally pause and hiccup (and more so when one changes the channel or sends any other signal from the iPhone to the device), but audio plays through perfectly. Connected to a 802.11g network, the iPhone app most often is receiving between 150-550Kbps of data, and seems to average in the 300Kbps range.
The menu is very simple to work with, a simple tap on the screen brings up large buttons on the left side of the screen — Favorites, Remote, Set-top, and DVR – all of which bring up various remotes to change channels and connect to whatever device the HAVA itself may using as a TV tuner. The same single tap on the screen also brings up along the bottom of the screen a volume slider, a button to change the type of output to display (HD, SD, zoom, original), a settings button, and a connection one.
While all that is to the good, not everything about the application is as nice. It doesn't remember output settings – change the display to "SD" in the program, exit the program, and one will have to change the display again next time the app is loaded. When the menu is displayed, changing the volume using the iPhone's button affects volume in the app and not the ringer, however, once the menu disappears, pressing the same button only changes the ringer, not the app, volume. It is also slightly awkward that as the iPhone has to be placed sideways to watch programming that the iPhone's button to increase the volume lies more towards the low volume end of the slider than the iPhone's volume decrease button – however, that issues seems more connected to the device than the app.
It can't quite be stated that this is a negative, and while it may be asking for a lot, it would be nice to see the ability to pause and rewind TV using the app's buffer, not by attempting to rewind whatever device the HAVA is connected to (remote signals, as with the desktop application still take several seconds to register). That, however, may suck more memory than an iPhone has to offer.
My initial review of the HAVA also stated that it's "best days" were "still in the future," and with the release of this application, that future is drawing ever closer. As HAVA tweaks the device's firmware and the iPhone app software, users can hopefully expect improvements in the quality of the video, which already seems better than what an over-the-air signal offered back in the days of analog TV and "rabbit ears." That and the availability of Wi-Fi everywhere might just make a HAVA and this app, which is currently priced at $9.99 ($20 less than the equivalent program should one own a Slingbox instead of a HAVA), absolutely indispensable for TV lovers.