Retro rocket-styled streamer, anyone?
Review We’re always worried when we receive products from companies with names such as ‘Conceptronic’ as it suggests a very hardware-oriented frame of mind. And, like so many of the media player devices that we’ve reviewed in recent months, the Grab'n'Go FullHD Media Player turned out to be a neatly designed piece of hardware that is let down by rather less neatly designed software.
Product launch? Conceptronic's Grab'n'Go FullHD
The FullHD Media Player catches the eye straight away. Its streamlined ovoid design makes a pleasant change from the rectangular lump of plastic favoured by most of its rivals, and if you turn the device on its side – using the sturdy metal stand that’s included in the box – it looks a bit like a 1950’s retro rocket ship.
A quick look around the back of the unit reveals a good collection of connectivity options. There’s an HDMI interface for connecting to an HD TV, along with composite, component and S-Video outputs for analogue gear. Stereo audio is complemented by a coaxial S/PDIF interface, and there’s gigabit Ethernet port for connecting to your home network and streaming those big fat video files. Finally, there’s a single USB port for plugging in an external hard disk or memory stick.
However, the FullHD Media Player does not have an internal hard disk. You play content by simply plugging in a USB hard disk or flash drive that has your files stored on it. Alternatively, you can stream files across your network from a PC that is running Conceptronic’s Media Server software. Your preferred UPnP server software can also be used, as the Media Player itself supports this protocol.
We were pleased to see that Conceptronic also includes suitable cables for its various connectors, even including a Scart adaptor and a gold-plated HDMI cable to boot. Once you’ve plugged it in and turned it on the FullHD Media Player takes a leisurely 28 seconds to warm up, but works smoothly from then onwards and responds promptly to commands from the hand-held remote control. When it starts up it displays a very simple graphical menu on your TV screen that consists of just three icons.
Plenty of ports and a gold-plated HDMI cable included too
The Setup icon allows you to adjust settings such as the video output format – anything from 480p right up to (as the name implies) full 1080p – stereo or digital audio output, and even hue and saturation controls. The second icon, ‘iMedia’, allows you to use a variety of online media services, such as YouTube videos and ShoutCast Internet radio. Using these online services was very easy, as the FullHD Media Player automatically connected to our network with no need for us to adjust any network settings at all.
There’s a BitTorrent client built into it too – although you can only download Torrent files onto a USB storage device that is plugged into the Media Player itself. The USB storage device also has to be formatted using Windows NTFS or the Linux EXT2 format – there’s no support for the Mac’s HFS format, nor is there a Mac version of the Media Server software. In short, Mac users need not apply.
Main menu navigation options
The third option is the My Media icon, which leads to a sub-menu containing a further three icons that allow you to browse music, video and photo files. Before getting to grips with the Media Server software on our PC we decided to plug in a USB memory stick containing a batch of test files.
The FullHD Media Player had no problem playing any of the files on the memory stick, including MP3, WMA and AAC audio, and DivX, AVI and – to our great relief –some high-def H.264 video files that looked splendid with the player’s 1080p output.
But while the hardware is up to scratch, the software side of things is less accomplished. The browser interface is pretty basic – it simply lists the files in any folder in alphabetical order (or reverse alphabetical order if you prefer) but you can’t browse by genre or artist unless you take the time to create ‘artist’ and ‘genre’ folders and organize the content of the folders yourself.
Admittedly, this navigation weakness is shared by many rival media players but that doesn’t make it any less irritating when you’ve got dozens of gigabytes of music, photos and videos that you want to browse through.
AAC music files are not supported by the supplied media server
Our next step was to use Conceptronic’s Media Server software to stream some files from our laptop PC, and we were somewhat surprised to see that the Media Server doesn’t support the same range of file formats as the Media Player hardware. Indeed, it failed to stream our 16GB library of AAC music.
Conceptronic informed us that the Media Server is “a basic UPnP server” that only supports ‘standard’ file formats. The company was somewhat vague about which specific formats, but did confirm that AAC isn’t among them. Also, we were told that it’s possible to use alternative UPnP server software if you want, or to use the Media Player’s built-in Samba server to set up file sharing without using UPnP at all.
Nice hardware, shame about the software
That might not be too difficult for technically knowledgeable Reg readers – and we know that many of you are fans of MythTV – but first-time users who aren’t familiar with media players or the intricacies of UPnP or setting up a Samba server will simply grind to a halt at this point. Conceptronic really needs to offer more user-friendly software straight out of the box.
To be fair, Conceptronic’s Media Server application is no worse than similar software included with many rival media players. However, some devices, such as the and Western Digital's WD TV Live, do show that it’s possible to provide more versatile browsing options and greater ease of use.
At around £150, the FullHD Media Player is significantly more expensive than the WD TV Live, which also lacks an internal hard disk, while you can pick up a model such as Iomega’s ScreenPlay Director that has a 1TB hard disk for only £25 more. We like the rocket ship design, but the FullHD Media Player needs a price cut and more user-friendly software before this particular rocket is ready for take-off. ®
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