Blu-Ray player manufacturers realized last year that the Internet Age consumers want more from their purchase than just dumb playback of optical disks. The latest players from the top tier companies such as LG and Samsung provide support for VOD (Netflix, YouTube etc.) and streaming of media from the local network, while also adding USB ports to support playback of local media.

The LG BD390 is almost universally accepted as the best Blu-Ray player / media streamer combo. It is noted for its inbuilt Wi-Fi capabilities, and provides support for NTFS drives connected to its USB port. It utilizes the Mediatek MT8520 SOC for the core media streamer functions. The host processor is an ARM1176 core running at 500 MHz. The SOC also integrates  Ethernet MAC, 2 USB 2.0 and 2 SATA II ports with a HDMI 1.3 transmitter. Hardware acceleration is supported for decode of high definition H264, VC1, MPEG2 and DivX videos. All varieties of Dolby and DTS soundtracks are also supported. With an inbuilt hardware cryptography engine (really, a pre-requisite for any chip trying to get into the Blu-Ray market), handling DRM content on Blu-Ray disks is the main duty of this player. The operational power consumption for this player is 21W.

Now that the specs are out of the way, let us take a look at how this player holds up to the rigors of usage as a media streamer. LG issues frequent firmware updates, and almost all VOD services have been enabled (except for Amazon Video on Demand). Since the MT8520 happens to be Mediatek's first SOC geared towards the HD market, software support for the product hasn't matured yet. As of December 2009, the unit is unable to play MP4 files even though the internal codec is supported. There are also reports of sluggish picture playback, possibly due to the fact that JPEG decode is not hardware accelerated. Many of these issues may be resolved by future firmware updates. Another Blu-Ray player based on the same SOC is the Oppo BDP-83. Media streaming capability wise, it fares similar to the LG BD-390, albeit at a higher price point. While the Oppo version sells for US $500, the LG player can be obtained for less than US $250 as of June 2010.
 


The MT8520 Rebadged as an Oppo OP8521G
[ Picture Courtesy : User oppohellas at avsite.gr ]


The Mediatek SOC offering in this arena seems promising and its full capabilities may surface down the road with future firmware upgrades. Mediatek's future roadmap in terms of updates to the MT8520 SOC itself also merits a watch. Broadcom has already released a few generations of SOCs targeted towards the Blu Ray market (most Samsung Blu-Ray players use Broadcom chips), but they haven't made their mark yet with capabilities necessary for the media streaming market.

HTPC Based Platforms Pure Internet Service Media Streamers
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  • ruzveh - Thursday, June 17, 2010 - link

    I forgot to mention USB3 & SATA3 support along with bluetooth3 & new giga connection Reply
  • batmanuel - Thursday, June 17, 2010 - link

    I found the PS3 a little to easily dismissed in this discussion. Yes, the power draw is much higher than a pure media streaming product, but for me the convenience of having one device for games, Blu-Rays, Netflix, and local file streaming outweighs the extra little hit on my power bill. I've also found the PS3 Media Streamer software to greatly increase the usefulness of the PS3 for streaming, since on a reasonably up-to-date computer it can transcode just about any file format, including 1080p MKVs, into a stream the PS3 can decode.

    Similarly, not mentioning the Media Center Extender capabilities of the 360 also does it a great disservice. It seems like a power drain was used as too big a criteria, when it honestly doesn't cross my mind when selecting home theater equipment. I'm fairly sure the power drain of my PS3 isn't quite that big when you compare it to the drain of the HDTV,surround receiver, and TiVo (withe external hard drive) combined.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, June 17, 2010 - link

    Both PS3 and XBox are good media players, and PS3 has some great features such as bitstreaming.

    However, the intent of the article was not to cover all-in-one platforms in great detail.

    In our gaming platform reviews, we will also touch upon the media capabilities.
    Reply
  • ruzveh - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - link

    My friend PS3 is good but it lacks file format support by way big margin and todays codec r suppose to accelerate power from cpu and graphics card for better smoother experience. but still PS3 has many things lacking..

    I forgot to mention that media streamers can come equipped with some game emulators to play on our HDTV like this product "multimedia-mp6-player-sound-system-and-game-console" on chinavasionDotCom
    Reply
  • balancebox - Thursday, June 17, 2010 - link

    max reframe rate for 1080p h.264/x264 mkv playback should be tested

    I purchased an asus o player air recently it plays 720p fine even with 10 reframes but for 1080p it is having problems with 10 reframes, 5 reframes plays fine

    its probably do to hardware memory limitation. I would like to confirm if the WD TV Live can play 1080p with 16 reframes with video "planet earth from pole to pole 1080p"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQdSLOhrVMc#t=4m19s <--- this video says it can but being youtube it isn't reliable

    also WD TV have a larger linux modding community than asus o player =(
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, June 17, 2010 - link

    balancebox,

    This is definitely a part of our test suite (The 16 reframe video is one of the files). That said, almost all modern chipsets can handle 16 reframe (32 reframe for interlaced H264).

    Personally, I can confirm for you that WDTV Live indeed plays the 16 reframe Planet Earth sample, but only if it is off the local hard disk connected to USB. It doesn't play well over wired ethernet.

    I will include the following in our reviews:

    (1) Homebrew firmware / community development support
    Reply
  • NeBlackCat - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    Excellent article and follow up, once again showing why AT is in a class of it's own. Really looking forward to the next instalment!

    One major (imho) omission though, and it's very important to many people - the extent to which software is open and has active third party development. This keeps the bug count down and feature count up, promotes choice and innovation, makes your investment go further, and gives you a whole new way to have fun if you're a hacker. Ask Dreambox owners.

    For example, you could categorise each as:

    Closed: runs manufacturer software only, or perhaps semi-FLOSS (eg. Linux plus a proprietary manufacturer SDK that is closed, buggy and feature limited - are you listening Realtek/Sigma?).

    Customisable: mainly closed, but has been hacked in a limited way, allowing some end user customisation (eg. NMTs and their plugins and customisable UIs)

    Hackable: not fully open, but has been hacked enough to make most things possible, even complete firmware replacements.

    Open: anything goes - IONs, Dreamboxes, etc.
    Reply
  • NeBlackCat - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    > (1) Homebrew firmware / community development support

    Bah, that'll teach me to not hit the post button quick enough!
    Reply
  • Colin1497 - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - link

    Seems like a pretty big oversight. I stream from my PC and Netflix on my S3 TiVo quite a lot. Reply
  • scJohn - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - link

    I found this site useful for audio test clips: http://www.demo-world.eu/trailers/high-definition-... . Scroll down to see the Dolby, DTD and THX sections. I used the audio clips to see what audio the WD Live would pass thru to my A/V receiver.

    When testing a wired/wireless connection a lot of times a short clip (< 3-minutes) will play fine but when you try and stream a 2 hour movie all kinds of problems seem to crop up. I guess I'm recommending that your test suite have a good selection of run times.

    Another area that needs to be addressed is filmware updates. Does the company have a good history on updates? Not sure how one would about assigning a grade to a company in this matter. Also, what problems, uprgades, etc. can a company do on it's own and what a company is dependent upon the chip manufacturer's SDK.
    Reply

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