Devices such as the Vudu and the Roku boxes fall under this category. They aim to do one thing and do it well by restricting themselves to some VOD services and presenting their users with an environment similar to DVD renting, only online. Local media can't be played through them. Some of the SOC platforms which have found traction in this market include NXP STB 236 and Broadcom BCM7401. These SOCs were primarily designed for the IP set top boxes (Vudu and Roku may also be termed IP set top boxes, but at a more basic level compared to what these were originally designed for). These platforms do not support DTS audio, which is pretty much a pre-requisite nowadays for products geared towards the media streaming audience.

The Roku HD streamer introduced recently utilizes the NXP platform with a 320 MHz MIPS32 host processor. The STB 236 platform uses the PNX8336 at its core. H264 and VC1 seem to be supported codecs for hardware acceleration, while MPEG-2 seems to be only partially supported. The SOC has suitable connectivity options including USB, SATA and Ethernet. However, HDMI is not integrated in the SOC. The PNX8336 was released in April 2008. Since then, NXP has released video decoder chips targeted towards the TV and the DVR markets in December 2008 and March 2009. However, they seem to miss the mark as far as the features required for a media streamer device go. It will be interesting to see what Roku has in its roadmap, and whether they would shift suppliers for future products. The Roku HD-XR has a USB port, but it serves no discernible usefulness at present. The unit has an operational power consumption of 6W.
 


Vudu & Roku
Media Streamers Based on IP Set Top Box Platforms


Vudu, on the other hand, has realized that selling a restrictive IP set top box in this market is not an easy task. It is now striving to remodel itself as a service provider of sorts by integrating their software into the next generation Blu Ray players and TVs. Still, it is interesting to take a look at the platform behind their original device. It is based on Broadcom's BCM7401 (which also happens to have a 300 MHz MIPS32 host processor), which provides support for H264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 decode. Connectivity options include the standard set of USB, SATA and Ethernet. Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time. It is also puzzling as to why the BCM7400B which provides support for DivX decoding wasn't used. That would have probably made the box closer to what the media streamer market needs. Vudu, unlike Roku, also provides the ability to purchase and download movies from their collection. This necessiates a hard disk inside their unit, which puts the operational power consumption much higher than Roku's at 18W.

All said and done, the days of these types of media streamers are numbered. They have to evolve themselves to different types of products in the coming years in order to survive in this market.

Blu-Ray Player / Media Streamer Combo Internet & Local Media Streamers
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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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