Oct. 3, 2013 at 12:17 PM ET
On Thursday Samsung revealed its $299 HomeSync, a little black box that has three basic tricks: It lets you blast your videos and photos on your TV, save (and access) those media files on a central home network drive, and play movies and other content from the Internet via standard Android apps. Instead of coming with a remote control, it takes commands from your compatible Galaxy phone.
HomeSync, available on Oct. 6, is not quite the same as the $99 Apple TV or Google's $35 Chromecast. True, all three let you watch movies and TV streamed from the Internet (with varying degrees of functionality), and view the pictures and videos you're constantly shooting on your phone.
But neither of the other two gives you a way to offload all those files for permanent storage. With nearly a terabyte of internal storage in the HomeSync, you could shoot for years and not fill up the drive.
The other difference is that HomeSync is basically a free-standing Android device, so you can install any app, not just video streaming stuff. Spec-wise, it partly resembles the Ouya Android game console, so as long as there's not too much latency when you're controlling what's on the screen, you could technically even use it to play games.
Speaking of that, when you sync your phone to the console via the HomeSync app, there are multiple supported modes of control: Your phone can get buttons, for basic, four-directional steering; it can become a trackpad that lets you to move around the screen; or it can do screen-mirroring, so that you can "touch" what's on the TV by touching it on your phone.
Not just any phone, though. Samsung says that the HomeSync is compatible with the Galaxy S4 Note 3, S III, Note II, Note 8.0, Note 10.1 2014 Edition and Galaxy Camera, and possibly others that have a protocol called "Samsung Link."
There's a lot going on here, but several things are clear: For starters, you and your family have to be devoted to Samsung phones — not just Android phones — to invest in this.
Second, while much of this resembles features found in Samsung Smart TVs, this product is from the Samsung Mobile division, and doesn't seem to have any relationship with the company's home theater family of products across the aisle.
Finally, $299 is a high price to pay for so specialized a system when the video-streaming alternatives — not just Chromecast and Apple TV, but Roku, Xbox, PlayStation and more — are all around you.
HomeSync's differentiator is that it not only backs up your phone's media, but it appears to let you find it again really easily. Not a lot of devices do that well. Still, if that's all your lacking in life, you can use your computer and a cheaper network drive to make it so. (And you don't need to buy a Samsung phone to do it.)