From the Little to the Big Screen
In the eternal argument about the best way to bring all the Web has to offer into the classroom, Lookee TV makes a good argument for the set top box over a full PC. That’s because, the Lookee box is everything that a PC will never be: small, inexpensive and purpose-built for displaying the best (and worst) the Internet has to offer.
At 4.0- by 8.4- by 4.4-inches, Lookee can connect to more than 1,400 sources of online video streams and 30,000 Internet radio stations. The variety of languages and subject matter spans the globe, from Afghanistan’s Ariana TV channel to Venezuela’s VIVE; sorry, at the moment there’s no Zimbabwe content.
My favorites are the always interesting NASA TV and the appropriately named Learn Arabic Grammar TV, two items that you can get to on the Internet but the chances of finding them on your own are small. For instance, during the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I watch NHK’s (Japan’s main TV network) English satellite feed.
Overall, the video quality is tolerable, but varies from site to site. Of course, it’s all dependent on how the Internet is operating at the moment. There are the ever-present video stutters and some of the video selections are real clunkers, including streams that haven’t been updated for months and others that appear to be traffic intersection Web cams. Some sites come in loud and clear while others come up as unintelligible blobs, play haltingly or never load.
The hardware is impressive given its $170 price tag, particularly when compared to the slightly more expensive Nixeus Fusion HD. Its neutral piano black design will fit into any classroom and the system’s 4.3-inch screen can show 480 by 272 pixels.
It’s a snap to connect it to an 802.11b or g WiFi network, although, like so many similar devices, plugging in the encryption codes can be an exercise in frustration; thankfully, you need to do it only once. The version I looked at lacks an Ethernet jack for wired networking when WiFi just isn’t enough; at $8, it’s an option that’s well worth it.
The system has a pair of 3-watt speakers that sound surprisingly good, but no input jack for a microphone that could have transformed it into a tidy public address system for classroom amplification. There is a mini audio plug for playing the sound on an external set of speakers.
It comes with most of what you’ll need to integrate it into a curriculum, including an AC adapter (it can also run on four AA batteries) and USB cable. It can connect to a monitor or projector at up to 720 by 480 resolution via the included composite video cable. There’s a jack for a YPbPr connector but the unit doesn’t include a cable; the jack is also for connecting antenna for the device’s FM radio.
Unfortunately, it does without an HDMI connection, which can simplify the set up by combining both audio and video streams. It’s, however, not surprising in light of Lookee’s low resolution screen, but a disappointment, nonetheless
I really like that there’s an SD card slot for playing local content, and the Lookee TV box can work as an impressive networked media player. When it’s not being used, Lookee is a great digital clock, with an alarm for dividing the day, but can’t time tests or tasks.
It doesn’t require a keyboard or have a traditional Web browser, and that’s good and bad. It’s good because anyone, from a 4 year old to the most technophobic teacher can quickly find a video stream or radio station and tune in. It’s bad because it’s needlessly limiting with the wide world of content available at the finger tips. There is a handy remote control that has a 35-foot range, perfect for anything up to an auditorium or cafeteria
Happily, the content is arranged hierarchically by country, language and subject matter; at any time you can search for content. It’s a nice way to home in on what you want to find, but it takes several seconds for the device to download each list. The company can update the menu’s contents very quickly to add new things and take out nonfunctional sites
While I love the variety of content that Lookee provides and it blows away the content available on the Nixeus Fusion HD, do yourself a favor and spend some time nosing around and trying the different streams out. I only wish there was a way for teachers to share content by adding their own favorite streams to the menu.
After viewing the stream on the system’s small screen, it can be transferred to a projector or large-screen monitor, but you’ll have to switch to external display and find it all over again, a frustrating duplication of efforts. In my mind, a key flaw is the lack of ability to record material for eventual use or sharing with other classrooms. As it is, it’s now or never.
Still, Lookee TV shows how to build and program a great set top box that can fit into every classroom and its budget.
+ Lots of programmed content
+ 4.3-inch screen
+ FM radio
+ Network media player
- No browser software or keyboard
- Low resolution
- Can’t record material for later use