Media Player Appliances

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#1
There are so many of these things, I can't imagine going through them all.

Who are the stars in this segment?

Here is my current need:

<$400
HDMI out
1080P capable
Decent interface/Remote control
Streaming all the usual video and audio formats

I've always just used a computer, so I really don't know what all is out there. Any positive experiences?
 

fb

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#2
I'm also on the lookout for a streamer for movies, the AC Ryan PlayonHD mini2 looks very good. It's inexpensive, rich on features, the UI and the box looks nice. It's really difficult to know how it performs in reality since most reviews focus on the features instead of picture & sound quality.

The problem with video capable streamers is that they all seem to suck at music playback, even if you pay $399, so it's probably a good idea to get a Squeezebox or something like that if you want to enjoy music.
 

Stereodude

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#4
Get a real HTPC, then you don't have problems with content providers getting pissy and blocking whatever box you're using because they don't like it (like Google TV, etc). This of course assumes you're trying to stream Hulu and the like from online content providers. If not, said boxes may be an option.
 
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#5
This user has a real HTPC that I built about two months ago. They are trying to bring video playback of their media to the bedroom as well. The question is whether one of these boxes is cheaper than running a massive HDMI cable between the two rooms.

For less than $400, it would be worth it. A good HTPC is more than that.
 

Mercutio

Fatwah on Western Digital
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#6
Hm. Some kind of low-end AM2+ machine + 2GB RAM + small local drive, say 250GB + modest case and PSU + DVD... I think I could do it for maybe $250, plus whatever the control scheme costs. Kick in another $30 for a low end Radeon if you're concerned about video decoding.
 

Chewy509

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#8
This user has a real HTPC that I built about two months ago. They are trying to bring video playback of their media to the bedroom as well. The question is whether one of these boxes is cheaper than running a massive HDMI cable between the two rooms.

For less than $400, it would be worth it. A good HTPC is more than that.
What's the HTPC currently running OS wise? Why not just share the media via DLNA (Media Sharing in Windows 7 or miniDLNA for Linux), and use a TV in the bedroom that can use/view local DLNA content?
 

time

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#9
Because I doubt the TV can render "all the usual video and audio formats"?

A quick look at Sony (the founder of DLNA) shows that the EX400 and EX500 series don't even have DLNA, and the EX600 and EX700 series can only render MPEG2. AFAIK, that means no HD1080.

I think most people wouldn't be putting a large, high-end TV into their bedroom, so the actual unit probably doesn't have DLNA; moving to a model that does could nearly double the price.

I'd be happy to be corrected on this, it would be nice if interoperability was more than just lip service.
 

MaxBurn

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#10
I certainly wouldn't consider combining the monitor and the player device. The player device fields are changing far faster than I want to get new TV/monitors.
 
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#11
time is correct. This particular TV is only a 720P unit, and doesn't support anything. The user purchased it at a time when it was quite expensive, so is reluctant to replace it.

I find it silly that people who paid a lot for something in the past refuse to believe that something dramatically cheaper now is better than what they have.
 
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#15
For myself, I would never consider an appliance. I am fairly tech-savvy and don't expect to be compensated for my time in putting one together or supporting it.

But if we are talking about putting one in the field (particularly one I couldn't charge to support), an appliance looks like the lowest-maintenance, lowest learning curve option out there.
 

Mercutio

Fatwah on Western Digital
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#17
You don't think someone could assemble a functional, quiet and reasonably low-power PC for this application?

Maybe something in a fanless Atom system that boots Linux off a CF card and uses a $30 video card to handle HD decoding? That would certainly be quiet and low-power while maintaining flexibility. I could probably get that done for under $200.

The biggest issue I've had with media playing appliances is that every one I've looked at has one compromise or other.
 
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#18
The problem I've had in the past with lower-powered PCs and HD content is getting the hardware decoders enabled. It has in the past required special playback software or drivers.
 

MaxBurn

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#19
My experience with HTPC rather sucked, constantly maintaining it or trying to get something to work right etc. UI is difficult, was using a msft remote to do common things but then you need to change something and you are getting out a bluetooth keyboard. Once you put bluray in the picture with HD sound the price and complexity starts to really look unfavorable to an appliance.

This especially grabbed my attention, they must have come out with new stuff recently.
Dune HD Smart D1 Media player
Item #: HDSmartD1
Price/ea: $255.95
http://store.duneplayer.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=12
HD audio: enjoy top-quality audio tracks (Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM, FLAC).
Extended support for Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio: output bitstream (up to 7.1 channels) or decode to LPCM (up to 7.1 channels) for maximum flexibility when connecting audio equipment, and for extended support of advanced playback features (such as Picture-in-Picture).
Video output flexibility: output video in any resolution and format (from SD to 1080p, 24p/PAL/NTSC).
Upscaling: high quality upscaling of DVD and any other SD video content to Full HD (1080p) or other HD resolution.
HDD player: connect an HDD to the player (assuming the USB ports here)
eSATA port: connect an HDD via the most efficient eSATA
Network player: connect the player to a local network and play content directly from PC or NAS
 

Handruin

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#20
You don't think someone could assemble a functional, quiet and reasonably low-power PC for this application?

Maybe something in a fanless Atom system that boots Linux off a CF card and uses a $30 video card to handle HD decoding? That would certainly be quiet and low-power while maintaining flexibility. I could probably get that done for under $200.

The biggest issue I've had with media playing appliances is that every one I've looked at has one compromise or other.
Can you assemble an HTPC that is as quiet and as functional as a Boxee for the same or less money? I consider the Boxee disposable after a couple years of service at the price it sells for.
 

Mercutio

Fatwah on Western Digital
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#22
My experience with HTPC rather sucked, constantly maintaining it or trying to get something to work right etc.
I'm not sure what issues you could be having. I'm just using a Windows 7 machine with Media Player Classic with K-lite codecs, PowerDVD and WinAmp. The only concession I made to the living room setting was bumping the text size on everything way up. I haven't done anything on that machine except watch or listen to stuff since July or August.

Re: Quiet as a Boxee, I don't know what a Boxee sounds like. I know what Xbox 360s sound like and I can get an inexpensive MITX machine to that noise threshold for sure. Something more like a Tivo would take more work, but I'm thinking it's do-able at a $250 price point.
 

fb

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#23
You don't think someone could assemble a functional, quiet and reasonably low-power PC for this application?

Maybe something in a fanless Atom system that boots Linux off a CF card and uses a $30 video card to handle HD decoding? That would certainly be quiet and low-power while maintaining flexibility. I could probably get that done for under $200.

The biggest issue I've had with media playing appliances is that every one I've looked at has one compromise or other.
The only problem, if I understood everything correctly, was to get video from room A to room B? I'm not against HTPC's or anything, but is it really the most cost efficient solution to this problem?
 

blakerwry

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#24
Any positive experiences?
A couple of my co-workers are really into watching movies via media player appliances. One has the WD-TV live and the other has a couple popcorn hour players (livingroom+bedroom). Both have HD vid/audio in the living room.

The guy with the WD chose it because he liked the interface (he is also a mac user). The guy who has the PCH units utilizes (I think) YAMJ + a GUI to manage his movies to create a pretty slick interface similar to XBMC.

From what I've read, the PCH units are regarded as the best players.
 

MaxBurn

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#25
I think the PCH is the other one that supports HD sound and bluray menus, there were only two that did that when I got one. Likely more now.

But anyway my problems with htpc are all buried in threads here. Basically a cludge fest in getting things to work, can never get away from a full keyboard and mouse. The really annoying thing for me was a delay in the optical audio causing lip synch everywhere. I'll just blame that on creative. I'm sure things have gotten better with htpc now but I have had peace of mind with the dune and I am sure the appliances have gotten better too.

Real challenge is an appliance or even htpc is only half the problem, need a big nas box behind it. Lots of guys on the forums have machines that make mine look like a toy.
 

Pradeep

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#26
I'm not sure what issues you could be having. I'm just using a Windows 7 machine with Media Player Classic with K-lite codecs, PowerDVD and WinAmp. The only concession I made to the living room setting was bumping the text size on everything way up. I haven't done anything on that machine except watch or listen to stuff since July or August.

Re: Quiet as a Boxee, I don't know what a Boxee sounds like. I know what Xbox 360s sound like and I can get an inexpensive MITX machine to that noise threshold for sure. Something more like a Tivo would take more work, but I'm thinking it's do-able at a $250 price point.
I don't know of any consumer electronics device that's louder than a 360. Its ridiculous.
 

Pradeep

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#27
This user has a real HTPC that I built about two months ago. They are trying to bring video playback of their media to the bedroom as well. The question is whether one of these boxes is cheaper than running a massive HDMI cable between the two rooms.

For less than $400, it would be worth it. A good HTPC is more than that.
PS3+PlayOn on the HTPC?
 

Mercutio

Fatwah on Western Digital
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#28
I don't know of any consumer electronics device that's louder than a 360. Its ridiculous.
360s are pretty much the only non-PC consumer electronics devices with which I have experience. I managed to make two working units from five broken ones, basically just following instructions I found online.

My Wii is louder than any computer that belongs to me. I can't even stand to have that thing on, and I'm the guy who is allergic to powering off electronics.
 

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#34
Yup. So I have a class on this now. I have $2000 to spend on hardware. I'm going to buy a Boxee box, a Popcorn Hour player and s Seagate Freeagent Theater thingy. I figure I'll load Vortexbox (which is just a Linux distribution) on a spare PC.

I might buy a cheap DLNA TV to go with all of it.

And then I'll have to figure out what to do with the other $1000.
 

Sol

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#37
Samsung's Android devices seem to have very good DLNA support (Including support for sending a stream from a remote server to a remote endpoint which the other devices in your list probably lack), the new 10" Galaxy Tab would halve your financial problems...

An AV receiver with HDMI 1.4 Ethernet support and the extra audio channel back from the TV would kind of tie the whole lot together nicely but may not fit that well in to your curriculum.
 

Mercutio

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#38
There's a spiffy little Android tool that has an astonishing level of support for PC-based (AV-type) remote controls. And I'd had any sleep in the last day and a half I'd even be able to remember its name. Uh, uh... whatever. I remember that it was $5. Go me.

DLNA is pretty lame. It basically only streams MPEG2 video, which is a fairly lame format. Manufacturers can optionally support MP4 or WMV9, but in doing a little research, I guess support for those things is spotty.
 

Chewy509

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#39
DLNA is pretty lame. It basically only streams MPEG2 video, which is a fairly lame format. Manufacturers can optionally support MP4 or WMV9, but in doing a little research, I guess support for those things is spotty.
That's because MPEG2 is the only required format, and as we know most manufacturers will do anything to reduce cost. IIRC, the only devices that will go beyond MPEG2 support are BR players (and they only add in the codecs needed for BR playback) or software driven solutions like Windows Media Player.

I really like DLNA in theory, and is great if you want a single media server and all the kids have DLNA enabled TVs so they can stream movies, rather than getting the physical DVD/BR disc out and playing it. But the codec option is the real downfall for it.

Some quick reading into why DLNA choose MPEG2 as the only required format was for bandwidth reasons (especially over wireless) and CPU/APU power needed. It's only been in the last 2-3 yrs that good hardware decoding support for anything above MPEG2 has been around, and DLNA was launched over 8 yrs ago. So in that regard it makes some sense, but I do agree it would be nice for device manufacturers to start adding support for other codecs, especially those found in use with BR discs (eg VC-1 and H.264).
 

Mercutio

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#40
The Vortexbox is pretty slick. I set one up on a dual core Atom machine with a Hitachi 2TB drive and then turned it over to my boss with the couple scripts needed to map its disk shares on her kids' PCs and Macs. They've been using it for about a week and they're not even aware that the box is actually a computer.

It takes that machine about a half hour to convert a DVD to a .mkv file.
 
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