Viewsonic VMP74 1080p media player
You want codecs? It's got 'em
Review For most of this century, I've evangelised home movie set-ups that put a lightweight, probably Linux-based player in the living room, leaving your multimedia libraries on a server at the other end of your network.
Viewsonic's VMP74: compact casing - but what a lot of codecs it contains
My favorite player has always been the Pinnacle ShowCenter, a pioneering device that lost its way in the market when five years ago Pinnacle fell into the insensitive clutches of the Avid Corporation. The ShowCenter's video decoding capability, alas, stops with the now ageing H.263 (XViD, etc) codecs. To carry me forward into the era of H.264, Viewsonic's new VMP74 might just be the proposition I'm looking for.
While the older generation of players like the ShowCenter tended to favour traditional hi-fi form factors - although this left them filled mostly with air - the VMP74 is less than 30mm in height, around 130mm wide and 100mm deep.
There's no wireless connection, but any device like this that pushes out true HD would probably struggle to suck in 1080p input over the air. My ShowCenter - it maxed out at 720p - was never convincing over 802.11g, so I don't see the Viewsonic's wired-only LAN link as an important limitation.
The huge spectrum of codec specifications is down to the talents of the Sigma Designs SMP8654AD processor. This extraordinary single chip not only decompresses video and audio, with post-processing functions like deinterlacing and deblocking, but also handles the Ethernet and the USB. The VMP74 has a pair of USB connectors at the rear, one of them doubling as an eSata port. And, yes, the Sigma chip takes care of the eSata protocol too.
Good range of ports - but component-video would be handy
Oh, and it also negotiates "a wide variety of Digital Rights Management solutions", which should be reassuring to those of you who are gagging to play content-protected WMV 9 files.
Re. HiSense is still ahead
Especially now the MP800H is now only £50 at Expansys...
New Firmware, Better Score
Since this review hit the Web Viewsonic has sent me a couple of firmware updates, in the light of which I'd be inclined to up the score to, say, 80 per cent. I put this tentatively, because the firmware is still beta and not public, and it looks as if the changes it implements won't be publicly available until next month, or perhaps later.
The latest firmware revision removes my objection to the Web browser -- pages are no longer messed up and the navigation is smoother and definitely useable. And the BBC iPlayer now works, so for those with reasonable Internet bandwidth (>=2Mbps) it offers a very decent catch-up TV experience in the living room. I don't have any way of measuring the resolution, but it's probably not 720p, but subjectively it does seem to be a better picture than I get when visting the iPlayer on a PC.
By the way, the BBC iPlayer seems to be the element that's holding up Viewsonic's distribution of this firmware -- I understand they can't go public with it until the BBC signs it off.
The bad news is that the Samba problem isn't, as I suggested, a function of my password protection. It's been confirmed that a firmware bug is preventing Samba sharing on some network configurations, although I'm told that Viewsonic's boffins are working flat out to fix it. When the Samba issue is fixed I'd be happy to shift this rating up another 5 per cent.
Quxy (above) raises the spectre of the HiSense MP801H, and indeed it's the low street price of the currently available HiSense MP800H that has prevented me giving the VMP74 a higher score. But as far as I understand it, the MP801H isn't destined for Europe, and its RRP is unknown at the moment.
I haven't kicked the MP800H around myself, but it certainly seems worth a look, especially at less than half the price of the VMP75 (although that's comparing street price with RRP, of course). If you don't want the YouTube and other Internet functions, and you don't need the advanced audio features like DTS downmix and full Dolby Digital (no space to go into this in the review, but worth following up if you're a HiFi buff) the HiSense seems like a nice cheap option at fifty odd quid.
Danny 14 mentions wireless. I believe the VMP74 wll take a USB wireless dongle, although I haven't tested this.
Better hope this thing never goes wrong as my experience of ViewSonic's aftercare is that it's fucking shit. A warranty repair, no less, for a monitor with a faulty EDID chip. Getting them to ackowledge the warranty was bad enough, look forward to month long waits for responses.
BBC iPlayer HD?
So what are the chances of this actually being able to deliver BBC HD straight from iPlayer?
I guess until its reviewed we'll never know.
El Reg (Chris or Alun) please keep us updated as and when said update is released.
Maybe your g wireless sucked for 720/1080 but n should be more than enough even with encryption. I must admit though, for the price it is cheaper than most ION systems when you factor in mobo and case (I run XBMC off USB so not much else is needed.)