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Purchase Decision – Media Player

21 Mar

So if you are like me you probably have a lot of media stored on various devices throughout your house. That media probably includes pictures, ripped music, home videos, recorded TV shows, backed-up DVD’s etc.  To use that media, you are probably watching/listening/looking at it on the device it is stored on or making copies on other media (USB drives, DVD-R’s, etc.) so you can watch/listen/look at it on other devices. It’s all a bit cumbersome, but it probably works if you put the time in to make it work.

I have a Windows Vista slimline-type desktop and a Windows XP laptop that access my media and other files over a wireless network. My files are stored on a Network-Attached Storage device (NAS) that is essentially an external desktop hard-drive/enclosure with a network jack (RJ-45) in the back of it.  It’s great that my media is stored in one place and I can get to it from either machine, but I have a nice home theater setup that I would like to leverage to access play that media.

Up until now, I have been using my laptop to serve up media to the home theather system. It is a bit of a cumbersome exercise to hook up the laptop when I need it and access the content I want. It’s workable, but I want something that does not require setup every time, and I am not prepared to devote the laptop to servicing this requirement only. I have decided that I need some sort of media player that I will hook into my home theater system and leave there most of the time. An additional feature I would like to have is the ability to take this player to other places fairly easily.

What type of media player?

The first decision I had to make was the type of media player I wanted. You see, there are a number of ways to go to address this requirement.

I could go with a Windows Media Center PC. This is a pretty robust solution with a great user interface that would give me a lot of power and flexibility as I could add new hardware and software to the PC as my requirements changed. That said, this is a fairly expensive option that will have very limited mobility. Taking it to another room or to someone else’s house is possible but very unlikely.

I could go with a game console like the xBox 360 or the Playstation 3 with media capabilities. This is still a pretty robust solution with probably less upgradability, and more limitations, but the added functionality of a game console (not what I am really looking for). This option is still relatively expensive with limited mobility.

I could go with a portable media player like an iPod or another player that has TV-Out functionality. This would address the portability issue noted above but is likely too far on the other side of the portability spectrum. I want something with good video quality that is designed to stay in my rack most of the time. The resolution of these players is usually designed for their very small screens, and often there is not enough space for storage of a large quantity of media (there are some exceptions that offer reasonable storage like the Ipod Classic).

Finally, I could go with a type of media player that is designed to serve of media from an attached hard-drive, either via USB, ethernet, sata, or some other type of connection. This type of device seems to me to be a good compromise that gives me a solution that is designed to stay in my AV rack most of the time, but could be move around fairly easily if required. I should be able to connect it to my NAS device via a hard-wired network connection through my router or via USB. I think I am going to go with this option.

OK. A “hard-drive based” media player…but which one?

Choosing to go with a “hard-drive based” media player (for lack of a better term) is probably a much easier decision than choosing a particular model. There are literally dozens of these types of players available, making it extremely difficult to choose a particular one. That said, my requirements may narrow the field somewhat.

Must Have Requirements

  • Supported Video formats – AVI, MKV, MOV, MPG, MPEG, and VOB
  • Supported Picture formats – JPEG
  • Supported Audio Formats – MP3, WAV/PCM, WMA, Dolby Digital, DTS
  • Subtitle support – SRT
  • Composite video out
  • S/PDIF Digital Audio out
  • HDMI audio/video out
  • USB connection
  • RJ45 (ethernet) connection

Nice To Have Requirements

  • WiFi capability (without an add-on)
  • Ability to mount a drive inside the device
  • Component video connection
  • S-Video connection
  • Support for internet-based media services
  • SATA connection
  • Media card ports
  • Second USB connection

The must have requirements listed above should narrow the field quite a bit. Let’s have a look at what’s available…

Asus O!Play

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • Support for internet-based media services: internet TV, internet radio, internet weather, Flickr, Picasa,
  • SATA connection
  • Media card ports

Asus O!Play Air

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • WiFi capability (without an add-on)
  • Support for internet-based media services: internet TV, internet radio, internet weather, Flickr, Picasa,
  • SATA connection
  • Media card ports

Patriot Box Office

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • Ability to mount a drive inside the device
  • Second USB connection

Popcorn Hour A-200

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • WiFi capability (without an add-on)
  • Ability to mount a drive inside the device
  • Component video connection
  • S-Video connection
  • Support for internet-based media services: Too many to list
  • SATA connection
  • Second USB connection

Seagate Freeagent Theater+

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • WiFi capability (without an add-on)
  • Ability to mount a drive inside the device – sort of – has a space for a Seagate Freeagent external drive to be inserted, case and all
  • Component video connection
  • Support for internet-based media services: YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, Video Feeds (RSS), Text Feeds (RSS), Finance Widget, Weather Widget
  • SATA connection

Western Digital WDTV Live

  • Has all of my must have requirements plus…
  • Component video connection
  • Support for internet-based media services: YouTube, Flickr, Live365, Pandora
  • Second USB connection

I think any one of these devices would probably meet my needs so I may try more than one. Based on what I have read, the WDTV Live seems to be the market leader in this segment, and it is pretty easy to find both online and at brick and mortar stores.

I am going to start with the Western Digital WD TV Live.

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5 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Consumer Electronics

 

Tags: ,

5 responses to “Purchase Decision – Media Player

  1. Jeff M

    August 19, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    I have the WD LIVE TV and love it – ensure you get the one that can take ethernet. If you do not have a ready ethernet cable, the system works perfectly fine with a USB wireless dongle (about 40$).

    I have it talking wirelessly through the dongle to MY WORLD BOOK (1 TB NAS drive) and works seamlessly.

    Like you, I’d like a nice media pcc to have a few things streamlined (running TED, etc.) but right now it works just fine for me. Some of the installed software is a bit cumbersome (twonky) but not that hard to configure.

     
  2. Paul J

    October 18, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    Wondering why you would not have wifi capability as a must have requriement? Just seems like that would make things so much easier. With regard to the comment by Jeff M above, if I buy the WD TV Live (which I have looked at), will I need this USB wireless dongle (not sure what a dongle is) to play movies/TV shows from my desktop PC?

     
    • Value Canuck

      October 18, 2010 at 9:12 PM

      I have my router in a rack right next to my TV so wireless was not a requirement for me with this purchase. If you want a two room solution without running wires and decide to go with the WDTV Live or Live Plus, I would suggest buying the wireless dongle. Another option is to buy a large USB-Powered external portable hard drive, fill it up with content in one room, move it to the other room, plug it into the WDTV and watch away. Finally, there are other solid media player devices out there with wireless on board such as the Asus O!Play Air.

       
  3. Peter C

    November 15, 2010 at 8:13 PM

    Hallo, I like all these options but with three kids the console option was definitely a plus. But to be honest, and I didn’t realize this at the time, but the ps3 turns out is one of if not the best blue ray player on the market. Seriously, we already had a BR player and when first loading a movie it took upwards o 2-3 minutes. The ps3 was almost instantly in comparison. That, in addition to the wireless (this itself was worth the investment) streaming and the gaming console really made this one a perfect for our family.

    We plan on trying out the new wands that just came out, hopefully from Santa claus, and wil let you know how that goes.

    StinkyPete

     

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