CastGrabber is a standalone podcast downloader which is billed to be compatible with most MP3 players on the market. The manufacturer claims it is so easy to set up that no technical ability is required.
DigitalReviews had the opportunity to try out the CastGrabber, so come along with us and see how true the claims are.
What is a Podcast?
For some of our less technical readers, a podcast is a series of digital-media files which are distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computers.
Personally I have never been a subscriber of podcasts mainly because I am too lazy to take the MP3 player out of my bag or car and hook it up every night to update my subscription. I also try to avoid iTunes like the plague as I find the software bloated and nasty for what its purpose is. So when the opportunity knocked on my door, I saw it as an easy and painless way to podcast the morning and drive time radio shows that I largely miss out on thanks to my variable transit hours.
The CastGrabber is a minimalistic unit with a matt black finish. It reminded me a bit of a very small version of the monolith from 2001 - A Space Odyssey. There is just a single LED and button on the top right hand corner, and a light gray sliding tray to keep your variety of MP3 player in place. On the back of the unit are the power, USB and ethernet ports.
Firing up the CastGrabber
There is really not much to getting the show on the road. According to the user guide, which is a sheet of A4 paper printed on both sides, all you need to do is connect the included network cable to an available router port, connect the AC power supply and wait for the LED to turn green. Simple enough instructions that even I could not mess it up, or could I?
The LED turned green and I plugged in my *ahem* older generation iPod. According to the instructions at this point the LED should blink red and wait til it turns green before disconnecting it. My iPod screen shows it is connected to something but the CastGrabber LED never changed colour despite being left alone for a few hours. A quick check of the playlist showed that the CastGrabber has not downloaded a registration key. Ah the joys of gadget testing.
I power cycled the CastGrabber, changed network cables, changed router ports, plugged in my laptop to see if my router ports are still working or has died from atrophy, or perhaps home to a spider which would have been squished by the RJ45 by this stage. Finally I checked the DHCP leases and as I suspected, the CastGrabber did not have an IP address. A few more network sorcery tricks and even a full restore of the iPod failed to make any progress so it was time to contact the vendor.
Despite the initial set back I was pleased to get a prompt response from CastGrabber. In fact the President of the company himself responded to my support email personally. The problem of not requesting / receiving an IP address has been a known issue which was solved, I just happened to receive a faulty unit. A new unit was very promptly shipped (thanks John!) and I was ready to go again.
This time when the CastGrabber was powered up, it took a noticeably longer time before the LED turned green. I took it as a good sign and after a quick DHCP server check I was in business. The registration key downloaded onto my iPod as per the instructions. To use the CastGrabber it is necessary to create an account on the CastGrabber website and entering the registration key that is downloaded to your media player.
Subscribing to Podcasts
For iPod owners, the initial Podcast subscription needs to be performed via iTunes (or alternative software if so inclined). Subsequent episodes for those subscriptions will be performed by the CastGrabber.
For other MP3 players it is possible to subscribe to Podcasts via the CastGrabber website. Their list by no means is comprehensive but I notice my subscriptions from iTunes shows up on the website.
For what the CastGrabber is designed for, it performs its function without great aplomb. However I question the glaring oversight where whilst you are freed from a PC, the CastGrabber tethers you to a router. In my case I have a wireless network with the router placed out of the way in a very low traffic area. Unless I intend to run a long network lead, the Castgrabber will have to live close to my router and I have a good chance of forgetting to dock my iPod, or forgetting to grab it on the way out in the morning.
The minimalist design with a solitary LED indicator to be all and end all of notifications leaves me second guessing as to what the CastGrabber is really doing and how long the wait will be. By default upon connection, the unit deletes all subscribed podcasts and downloads the latest three (or other set preference) episodes of each subscription, regardless of whether there is new content or not.
Lastly if you leave the player connected to the CastGrabber, for example over the weekend, it will only have downloaded new podcast episodes when the player was first connected. It does not check for updates once the initial download has been completed.
The CastGrabber does not work with PSP, iPod touch, iPhone, Macintosh OSX or Macintosh formatted iPods.
Dimensions: 14.6 x 13.6 x 7 cm HxWxD (5.75 x 5.375 x 2.75")
Package includes 1 x CastGrabber, 1 x CAT5 lead and 1 x AC Adapter
The CastGrabber does one thing and does it with a number of limitations. Once the subscriptions have been set up it is mostly a set and forget device which handily charges your media player whilst it updates your podcasts. I hope in future that Wi-Fi support would be incorporated because for me it severely curtails where I can physically locate the CastGrabber. There is plenty of scope for improvement as noted in the gripes section above. Additionally, iPod Touch and iPhone support would not go astray either given the latter's extreme popularity.