Despite the migration to digital media, some consumers still have plenty of DVDs in their movie collections and want to pop in a disc from time to time. I know what you’re thinking: 1999 called, and it wants its DVDs back.
But with the shift in hardware toward tablets and thin Ultrabook laptops without optical disc drives, those consumers are out of luck.
That’s where the Optical Smart Hub from Samsung Electronics comes in. It’s a sandwich-shaped, multipurpose drive that attaches either directly to your computer via USB, or connects over Wi-Fi to stream your DVD content to mobile devices running Apple’s iOS or Android. It also allows you to access files from a USB drive plugged into the back.
The Smart Hub, which hit the market in February with the forgettable name Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW, can be found for $80 through some online electronics retailers, including Amazon.com. Since its launch, the Smart Hub’s software has been updated to provide a more intuitive experience, after some early users complained it was too complicated to use.
Despite that update, I found setting up the Smart Hub to be so cumbersome that it nearly outweighed the benefits of using this product. Once I got it set up and had installed the necessary apps, it did stream my DVDs to my mobile devices without interruption and I really enjoyed being able to pop in a DVD and walk into another room with the movie streaming on my iPad. But the annoying set-up process still left a bad taste.
The Optical Smart Hub looks like a router, feels like a router and connects to your router, but it’s not a router. It also doesn’t have any internal storage. This black plastic Hub is 5.9 inches by .9 inch by 7.8 inches, and weighs just under a pound. It has USB, USB mini and Ethernet ports in the back, as well as a power port. The front of the device sports an eject button, which releases a tray for a single disc.
The Smart Hub comes with a software installation disc, meant to run on your PC. The glitch here is that you probably bought this product because you didn’t have an optical disc drive on your PC in the first place.
As an alternative, the directions say you can connect the Smart Hub to your PC via USB and run the disc that way, which is what I did with both an Asus Ultrabook and an H-P Ultrabook.
I was taken through a maze of directives and kept getting error notifications as I was trying to install the software off the disc, leading me to eventually give up and find downloadable software online.
The Smart Hub is designed to stream some content to laptops, but the process was so confusing that I found the best (and decidedly low-tech) option for watching a DVD on a laptop without a disc drive was to just plug in the Smart Hub via USB and run the DVD, which is how I watched “Along Came Polly.”
When it came to wirelessly streaming DVDs onto the iPad or smartphone, the set-up was again a multistep process, but I finally got a sense of what the Optical Smart Hub could do.
I first had to attach the Optical Smart Hub to my wireless Internet router using an Ethernet cord. Using a network name and password provided on a sticker on the bottom of the device, I set up the Smart Hub as its own Wi-Fi network.
I then downloaded a free Smart Hub Mobile application onto a few devices: an iPad, an iPhone 4 and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. (The Smart Hub app also works with Android tablets.)
Then I connected my mobile devices to the Smart Hub wireless network — not my usual, at-home wireless network.
But after that, the Smart Hub impressed me. I again watched the “Along Came Polly” DVD, this time on my iPad, with no physical accessories attached. The streaming quality was great, and I could fast-forward through chapters without any kind of stuttering. The app offered me options to listen in a few different languages or use subtitles.
Surprisingly, I could also stream the media on an iPhone and on the Android smartphone simultaneously. So a friend could watch a movie on his iPhone at the same time I watched it on the Samsung phone, each of us with our own little screens. However, I experienced a slight delay and a few dropped frames in the picture if I tried to fast-forward to another part in the movie.
The Smart Hub can be linked to four different devices at once, but technically only streams DVDs to two gadgets simultaneously. Samsung recommends streaming to one device at a time when it comes to watching movies.
Disconnecting the Smart Hub from my router meant I lost the connection and the media would immediately stop playing. So it is really meant to stay put, and wouldn’t work as a travel device, unless you wanted to set it up again every time you connected to a new wireless router. (Plus, carrying the Smart Hub and some DVDs with your laptop or tablet isn’t exactly the best way to travel.)
By plugging a USB flash drive into the back of the Smart Hub, I could access some photo and video files via the Smart Hub mobile app on my mobile devices. But again, my devices had to be connected to that specific Wi-Fi network.
For DVD lovers, the Samsung Optical Smart Hub could be a handy device, and offers more advanced functions than some basic attachable optical drives. But its complicated set-up made me think it’s not for the faint of heart. Even the smartest techies might find themselves scratching their heads over this supposed Smart Hub.