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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  • agold80 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Could I put in a request that you test subtitle languages that are Right to Left oriented, like Hebrew? there is quite a market for HTPC and Media Streamers in the middle east but companies support for RtL languages has been less than stellar and is something that often even their technical support finds hard to give a straight answer about. Reply
  • beginner99 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I would also test network capabilities. Support for wireless or wired, limitations, connection stability and so on.
    I would say most people buying such a device will sooner or later also get a NAS.

    Personally I have a WD TV Live and it's fine.But it has it's issues. One beeing that it sometimes has trouble connecting to the network. Another thing is that some content from youtube is blocked. You get a message similar to:
    "This content can not be watched from TV attached devices."
    This is pretty annoying because it is no mentiond that youtbe access i limited...
    -> one thing that speaks for a real HTPC.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    beginner99, Thanks!

    We definitely plan to test the networking capabilities, and present it in the review. The only problem we will need to work around is the fact that the network performance is highly dependent on the setup and environment. So, one thing which works in the reviewer's home perfectly, might not be very stable in someone else's home. Of course, we will be keeping an eye out on the various forums to get the various users' experience and make those observations play a small role in our review.

    By the way, my WDTV Live experience is also very similar to yours, and that is the main reason I am unable to get rid of my HTPC :)
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    For HD content you will def. need 50+ sustained mbps. I find that even my netgear WNDR3700 based wireless stutters on High Def, I just wired everything and now it's silky smooth.

    I think the devices should be reviewed in their own right, with no networking limitations, then a general review of how wireless works on media streamers ( unless you find one that performance unusually well or poor)

    Also you might think about looking at software media servers like twonky and tversity and others. With Twonky and WD Live, through the twonky software on your server ( computer) you can tell the WDlives what to do, for instance, play music in the bathroom, see what each device is playing, Play the same music through out your home.
    Reply
  • clarkn0va - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    "For HD content you will def. need 50+ sustained mbps"

    For non-recoded BD rips perhaps, but many users will not run into this limitation, at least not in the current state of things. I've tested hundreds of 1080p mkv/H264 rips and typical bitrate is in the neighbourhood of 20mbps (variable, peaking as high as 40).

    I don't stream a lot of HD over wireless, but with a good 54mbps connection I've found 720p to work well, while 1080p is more hit and miss.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Yea I'm talking about demuxing and remuxing a Blu Ray and playing back TrueHD which is my preferred way of getting HD content. I guess if you reencode it at 720 P you would be ok. Now, I'm way more picky then most so to get acceptable quality encoding HD takes around 5-10 hours, I have a Core I7 at 3.7ghz. So for me, forget that.

    But I just say 50mbps just to be on the safe side, you'd probably be ok with 40 but you would have no overhead.
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Don't forget the SageTV HD200. It is the only media streamer that spans all of the categories. It can act as an extender for their excellent media center software, can play almost any file format (mkv, blu-ray file format, etc) as a standalone media streamer, and can stream non-DRM internet video. I'd love see Anandtech cover it since it never seems to get any love from the media. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Hubble70,

    Thanks for your suggestion. SageTV HD200 is based on a Sigma Designs chipset. It will probably have the same features of a WDTV Live or any other NMT, except for UI changes. We will definitely review an upcoming revision of the product if we manage to get our hands on a review unit.
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Yeah, its based on the old Sigma, but I find that its not the hardware that limits most of these devices, it is the software stack. Whether or not they can play ISO, full BD menus or just BD menu lite, whether you can pick a BD playlist, container support, etc. It seems to matter a lot more than the hardware in them unless you really want HD audio support which it lacks.

    And no, the HD200 is nothing like the WDTV since its primarily designed as an extender for for their media center software. And when you use their media center software you can use any UI on it that you want. There are LOTS of user created UIs and you can customize your own easily. SageMC is the most popular alternate UI. Their new version of their media center, V7.0 even allows you to install XBMC frontends on them, though this feature is in beta.

    Used as a standalone unit it is pretty similar to the WDTV live but with better file format support.

    It's definitely worth taking a better look at since it is unique among media players because it can be used as an extender, a standalone media streamer, and even as a placeshifter.

    Here's a geektonic review of the unit.
    http://www.geektonic.com/2009/01/sagetv-hd200-hd-t...
    Reply
  • dumbletore - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Hi and thx for an very interesting article.

    I would like included test for playback of the format WTV which is the standard TV recording format for Windows7 / media player 12
    WMP cannot record TV shows in any other format, and i am really annoyed by my WDTV LIVEs lack of ability to playback it.
    Not that any of the competition can either though..
    Reply

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