There's a Web browser too, although I don't think I'll be using it much. There's no Flash, and too many misformatted pages. I found it a real struggle to navigate with the remote-driven mouse that crawls around the page and then suddenly chooses to hop from button to button.
A very usable RSS interface delivers world news to your living room.
For Web news though, adjacent to the Web icon on the main menu is an icon for RSS. By default, this is set to the Google and Yahoo! News feeds, but you can add your own feeds to taste. If the feed story is continued on a Web page, a single press of a button will take you there.
You can improve the Web navigation by plugging a USB mouse and keyboard into the VMP74. Alternatively, the remote control button marked SORT/EPG will pop up a virtual Qwerty keyboard. When you're accessing YouTube, the same key offers a simple sort of the clip titles, and you only get the keyboard when you visit the Search icon. This keyboard, however, is alphabetic rather than Qwerty.
The same alphabetic keyboard turns up when you're trying to set up Samba Client Access (SMB). Here I have to confess defeat - my samba servers show up on the VMP74 but I can't access their content. The otherwise helpful built-in manual - found under Settings - simply says tersely: "As long as the network is linked and no firewall is blocking shares from remote sites, there is no additional set-up to enable this feature." Which probably means password-protected Samba shares (like mine) can't be accessed.
Excellent at its main job as a UPnP client, great for YouTube in the living room, and a decent RSS viewer, the Viewsonic VMP74 is overall an impressive adjunct to your HD TV or projector. I understand that new firmware is on its way to bring BBC iPlayer to life - and hopefully improve the browser and fix the Samba problem - but even without it the device suggests itself as a very worthy successor to my faithful ShowCenter. Only the similarly capable but much cheaper (£50) Hisense 1080p Media Player - reviewed here - stops it scoring more highly. ®
More Media Player Reviews
Viewsonic VMP74 1080p media player
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.)