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.

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  • ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - link

    Modelworks,

    Thanks for the info. WDTV Live Plus is currently in our labs, and a review will be up soon :)
    Reply
  • DieterBSD - Monday, June 21, 2010 - link

    > 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.

    That's too bad, since the whole point of a media streamer is
    to get the noisy disk away from the TV/stereo. A conspiracy
    theorist might say that WD wants you to buy a disk.

    Two more things to test: (1) How well do these boxes deal with
    input that is less than perfect? Some mpeg decoders crash.
    (low quality programming) An easy way to generate a less
    than perfect test file is to record some OTA TV using a
    lame indoor antenna. Using the file allows testing all the
    boxes with the same input, so that the test is fair.

    (2) Also, closed captions crash some of the CECBs:
    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=99...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - link

    DieterBSD,

    Thanks for the link.

    Is it possible for you to link us to some 'faulty' OTA TV recorded videos? We can add them to the test suite.

    Currently we have no plans for testing converter boxes with our test suite, as the requirements for those vary greatly from that of the media streamers that we are trying to cover in this particular section.
    Reply
  • DieterBSD - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    > Is it possible for you to link us to some 'faulty'
    > OTA TV recorded videos? We can add them to the test suite.

    I am not aware of any available online. Thus my suggestion
    that it is easy to generate a test file by recording some
    OTA TV using a lame indoor antenna. Or add attenuation
    until the signal/noise drops low enough. This assumes you
    have a computer connected TV tuner card/box available.

    fixed attenuator (available in a variety of values)
    http://www.provantage.com/steren-electronics-201-4...

    variable attenuator (knob):
    http://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?mc=03&p=1...\
    %20Variators&sku=853748001293

    variable attenuator (switches (thus repeatable, but more expensive)):
    http://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?mc=05&p=S... Equipment&sku=

    These are just examples, not recommendations for these specific products.

    A two-way splitter adds about 3.5 dB of attenuation, a four-way about 7.4 dB, ...

    The harder way would be to start with a good mpeg2 file
    and corrupt it with a binary editor.

    > Currently we have no plans for testing converter boxes

    Sorry, I wasn't clear. Since some CECBs crash attempting
    to decode and display closed captions, perhaps the media
    streamers have similar bugs.

    You could set up a tuner card/box with a multicast/broadcast
    to the media streamers with closed captions on and let them
    run overnight. For completeness both the "analog" and "digital"
    captions should be tested.
    Reply
  • average_joe - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    The last time I looked at this product class, I believe I liked the Netgear EVA9150 for it's extensive media support, including DVD ISO. At the time, IIRC, almost nothing could read Bluray ISO, including the EVA9150, which would have made it perfect. Can you include this device in you evaluations?

    My long term goal is to have a media player that can pull from my home NAS and the internet seemlessly, without the need of an additional server (HTPC).
    Reply
  • ruzveh - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - link

    Todays media players are also lacking built in tv tune capability. I understand we have different device for the same but still its a good thing to have.

    And i personally dont own a media player of my own but would like to know does the following file format which is shown on the catalog works for file copied on CD's, DVD's, BD Disk Drive via USB or directly via pen drive?

    I would like to connect my Blu Ray drive to media player via usb and has it play all the collection that i have stored on my cd, dvd & blu rays
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    I'd have one addition for testing - PLEASE test the non-English character support in the subtitles. For example "accented" characters in different European languages.

    As for the other things, which have already been listed, do make sure you test the MTS/M2TS container format, and 1080/60p playback. If you'll need "heavy duty" 60p samples, just look for "raw" Panasonic HDC-TM700 videos (MTS, 50p/60p, 1080, H.264, with 5.1 surround).It chokes most software players, so I'm personally very interested in how these stream players support it :) Besides, it's future BluRay spec (well, 60p/1080/H.264 part at least)
    Reply
  • johnlannock - Saturday, September 25, 2010 - link

    When will you start posting reviews of different streamers so that I can purchase my next few?

    I have one patriot and am not happy with it.

    What do you think of the Argosy products?

    I need 5 of these devices in the near future and do not want to get fooled again.

    I rely on Anandtech to steer me in my purchasing decisions so that I do not suffer from "buyers remorse"

    Thank you
    Reply
  • turbobeta - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    In regards to the 360 and PS3, you stated:

    "However, such power consumption numbers put these devices beyond my criteria for a media streamer (their original intent was to act as a game console after all), and I will not discuss them any further in this article."

    I think that's a terrible reason to exclude them. These two devices are the most widely available, have modern av hookups, have modern internet connectivity, and have the largest install base.

    Its as if you were stating something ludicrous like "I'm not including pencils in my roundup of greatest writing utensils of all time, because they need to be sharpened, and I will not discuss them any further in this article."
    Reply
  • dpbrick - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    I'm really impressed by your approach in this article: looking at product capabilities and limitations on the basis of their chipsets. This is the first article of its kind I have seen of its kind. Unfortunately, it is over a year old at this point. Has any progress been made in updating it? Reply

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