Apple TV 160GB media player
A must-have for anyone with music and movies on a PC?
Review Over the past couple of years we've tried at least four different media extenders from Buffalo, D-Link and Pinnacle in an attempt to send AVI movie files from a PC to a TV. The PC is in a home office box, and the TV is in the living room, and all we want to do is watch recorded American TV shows on the big screen.
All four devices involved stacks of software, all sorts of nonsensical procedures to synchronise media libraries, and then, inevitably, delivered stop/start streaming, frozen pictures and audio that would get out of sync.
These failures seem to have arisen because they are networking companies who put the emphasis on streaming a signal from Box A (a router) to Box B (their gizmo under the telly) instead of building a device that performs a series of tasks with the minimum of fuss.
The answer would appear to be simple: switch to an Ethernet cable to overcome the bandwidth limitations of 802.11b or g Wi-Fi and all will be well. But our experience suggests otherwise, which suggests that the problems aren't restricted to wireless technology.
Apple's Apple TV: complete with remote - but no cables
We have to admit that we haven't used an Xbox 360 as a Media Extender, so it's possible that Microsoft cracked this particular problem a while back, but the Apple TV aroused our interest, despite its daft name - it's not, when all said and done, a TV: it's a set-top box. Yes, it's a networked unit, but unlike other devices stores content locally so there's no need to stream anything.
The first thing that strikes you is the tiny size of the unit. It measures 19.6 x 19.6cm and is only 2.8cm tall, which is miniscule compared to the hefty boxes supplied by the networking boys, all of which are the size of a domestic DVD player. This is especially impressive as the Apple TV contains plenty of hardware, including the power transformer.
Inside, the Apple TV uses a 1GHz Intel Pentium M processor, an Nvidia G72M graphics chip with 64MB of video memory, a 2.5in laptop hard drive, 802.11n wireless kit and the aforementioned power supply.
Apple's Apple TV: HDTV-friendly ports
On the front of the unit is an activity LED and an infrared receiver for the remote control, while the row of ports lives on the back and consists of a power connector, a USB 2.0 port for service and diagnostics - why not for files on a USB Flash drive? - 10/100Mbps Ethernet, HDMI, component-video, RCA stereo outputs and an optical digital audio connector.
Stuttering D-Link? Not here!
I've got a D-link DSM-520 which plugs into my Panasonic LCD (only 26" I'm afraid). My home router/access point is a G624M, into which is also plugged a G600 ethernet/wireless hard-drive enclosure (also has access point, but I've disabled this). The latter hardware sits in the backroom, at the other end of the hallway, so only two doors & twenty-odd feet of air between the router and the media player. I get 99% flawless playback, the only failing usually being media storage, which clears on a reboot. This rarely happens.
Ripped of (via bittorrent) US shows play back perfectly, whether in XVID or DiVx, and there is rarely any sync problem. HD encodings play back at 720p, looking excellent on the 26" Pana.
As an added bonus, I can use my laptop as a server (any pc will suffice) and playback bot channel 4 and the BBC's downloadable programmes (in wmv format). Two shortcomings there; quality is poor, and there are no discernable titles for the files, meaning that playplack can be a potluck affair.
Gosh, what would I give for Apple TV with no DiVx, XVid etc!?!
Or you could just use an xbox 1
No, not an xbox 360. Get an original xbox (£25 from Game with warantee) and stick xbmc on it.
Sorted. And it does MORE than Apple TV (Divx, etc.)
call me when they can deal with 1080p...
All the rest is just mediocre intermediate format.
when they have a machine that can play back a true 1080p stream then it gets interesting...
MythTV and PS3
I've run a Mythtv Linux box connected via SVIDEO to my TV, Now I've ditched the cables and use a PS3 over WiFi connected to MythTV via UPNP. Its got a high end Freeview (DVB-T) setop box because its great quality. But the PS3 playback quality is the best I've ever seen on a TV and the HDTV upscaling is very nice as well. Only gripe is one or two of the audio streams of the MPEG-2 TS format don't seem to be supported by the PS3 but I expect an firmware update soon.
I'm not rushing to buy a AppleTV as I don't use iTunes to download and view video but that said its pretty easy to turn the Apple TV into a fully fledges Mac and run iLife as well as a MythFrontend package so I guess I'm tempted but not convinced. I think if iTunes (UK) had a better choice (other than Ugly Betty and South Park) I might be more convinced.
Still at the same time it will be interesting to see what Sony do which online services so I suspect the only thing I need to replace my aging MythTV service is PlayTV and a large disk for the PS3.
Freecom SD & HD networked Media Players
I have a Freecom MG35 (HD version also available) with a 320Gb drive installed.
Movies can be dropped on to the hard drive either across my wired network using NDAS or via USB cable. Content can also be streamed across the network from any PC (no synching needed).
Plays every video format I have thrown at it (MPEG, DivX, Xvid, DVD VOB, MP4 ...) Won't do WMV, but that's hardly a problem for me.
No noisy cooling fans inside... just the faint almost inaudible noise from the spinning drive.
The whole set up cost me about £140 12 months ago .... could probably get the same for £110 today.