Lukup Player Review: An ambitious service marred by avoidable hardware

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While there have been many attempts to create a Netflix-like service in India, Lukup attempts to bring a hardware piece into the equation as well. India still lacks a quality (in terms of content) video streaming service and Lukup hopes to change that with officially licensed content.

Unlike other streaming service, you’ll have to buy the Lukup Player and then pay for whatever you want to watch – choose between a monthly subscription and pay-per-view.

Hardware

The Lukup Player is a colorful, though oddly-shaped, device. It’s not very classy choice of color, but if you are a pop-art fan, maybe it will appeal to you better than a boring black. The cheap plastic though strikes on first glance, and honestly, it wouldn’t look premium in any color. It looks like a prototype from the lab – unfinished and creaky.

The unit packs in a variety of connectors to string the Lukup Player with your TV and DTH set-top box. There’s an Ethernet port, power inlet, HDMI ports, and DIN-style breakouts for component AV in and out. There’s also a USB port on the side that lets you plug in a USB drive for media playback.

The remote handheld device, or the player, sits upright on the base attaching itself with a magnet. It’s just there to hold the player, with no docking or charging mechanism. The player charges via regular micro-USB and you can utilize the USB port on the base unit. Also, since the charging port is towards the bottom of the player, you can’t place it on the base while charging. It’s not an issue really, but is an awkward design choice.

The handheld player is even tackier. Cheap plastic, sharp edges and the build quality looks quite appalling. It looks like a beaten down device. The touchscreen is atrocious in form and function. It’s grainy and washed out, and the touch response is sluggish and inconsistent. The player has five touch-sensitive buttons, which work randomly, and would sometimes not register a tap or light the button.

Experience

Once you’ve set up, the user experience is cumbersome and sluggish. In most cases, it took me a lot of trial-and-error to figure out a way to proceed. If any product needs an instruction manual, this one it is, but unfortunately, it comes without one.

The Lukup Player looks awkward initially. The handheld is not a remote, as I assumed it to be, but a player and has its own menu independent from the display on the television. That made me shift focus between the two repeatedly which isn’t the best approach for a secondary screen. For a non-geek user, it will be really difficult to figure this out.

Working your way through the player’s UI is another challenge. Only after a call with the tech team at Lukup, I figured out that a long press brings up a menu of options where I can purchase content. Yes, it’s that unintuitive. Once you’ve managed to pay for the content, it starts playing on the TV and the player displays limited playback controls – a slider and pause and stop button. You’ll have to be very careful to stay on this screen, because if you exit to browse through the menu, there’s no way to jump back at it and stop the video! The player’s screen stays on all the time. The 650mAh battery runs out within a few hours, sometimes before a longish movie ends.

Content

For somebody like me who has an OCD for arranging digital content properly, Lukup is an axe on the head. Content is poorly labelled, and there isn’t a way to sort movies by any attribute or browse your purchased content in one place. It’s random and much disorganized.

The catalogue is limited as well at the moment, but we’ll hope it improves as we go along. I could find about 50 movies in Bollywood and Hollywood sections – although pretty less, they were a decent selection. The pricing ranged from INR 65-100 which is ideal, and buying a package discounts per movie price even further. There are about 15 TV shows as well. Any pay-per-view content can be watched unlimited times for three days.

Performance

One of the good things of Lukup Player is seamless network connectivity. It connected to my home Wi-Fi in a jiffy, and also easily snugged in with my Tata Sky set-top box.

While Lukup claims 720p streaming, the actual bitrate depends on quality of the internet connection, which is fair. On a basic 2Mbps connection, the movies took only a couple of minutes to buffer, and the playback was seamless. Of course, a faster connection will make things better. On an 8Mbps connection, while the movie played well in 720p, skipping forward to a different point on the timeline led to random freezing. Sometimes, I had to restart the movie to get out of the black hole.

One of the unexpected disappointments is local media playback via USB. Nothing really plays without stuttering or in most cases, wouldn’t even play. I thought it was the easier nut to crack.

The Best Part

– Reasonable content pricing
– Works with existing set-top box

The Tragic Flaw

– Terrible build quality
– Unintuitive UI
– Multiple bugs and glitch experience
– Overpriced hardware

Summary

I struggled with the device, and had to find answers with two support calls from the company. Any non-tech savvy person would have a sour experience. It’s really surprising that the company would launch such an apparently buggy product with atrocious build quality. The company also could’ve done better in guiding a user because unlike me as a technology columnist, a regular customer won’t have access to the product team.

Interestingly, Lukup has an accompanying Android app, and iOS one was in the works, which works better than the Lukup Player for the service. It’s an interesting option if the content catalogue is scaled, although a confusing one since that would make the Lukup Player more or less an expensive redundancy.

While the content pricing is perfect, the ₹12,000 price tag on the device is just pushing off the option from the rather empty table. I hope the company works on the content catalogue and hardware for the next iteration because the market is still wide open in India.

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