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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  • Xajel - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I think that Input & Output and all connectivity features are very important along with any remote interface ( network interface ) they may have... + if they can be used as a PVR or not... Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Xajel, Thanks for your suggestions.

    Currently, I believe that no shipping media streamer has PVR capabilities. The upcoming ZaggBox fits your description, but it is nowhere close to shipping :|

    We will consider your concern about connectivity options and remote interfaces in our reviews
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Actually, The Moxi DVR and its extenders can do PVR duty and coupled with Playon it can do Hulu and with Tversity I think it can playback your local content as well but I'm not sure about that.

    No standalone unit can do PVR duties, but coupled with SageTV Server software running on any computer in the house (widows, Linux, WHS, or OSX) the SageTV HD200 media streamer can be a PVR and playback your local movie content.
    Reply
  • morpheusmc - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Congrats for the media streamer roundup, I believe an Anandtech-class article is very much needed to clear up the this area.

    I would like to see the performance of media streamers over a wifi network. Most of them support 802.11N USB wifi adapters, but do not exceed even 802.11G speeds. I have had a bad experience with an eGREAT M34A and had to return it because of it.

    I am interested in finding out which is the cheapest device to play at least 720p MKVs (4,38GB/movie) over wifi (assuming a Wifi Access point (G or N if needed) is installed).
    My 4 year old (dual core) laptop plays 720p fine over 802.11g by the way, so 25Mbps ought to be enough, IF the device can actually achieve such speeds.

    Keep up the great work!
    Reply
  • morpheusmc - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Forgot to mention that I would like to see speed tested with WPA2 enabled. Not sure it makes a difference, just want to be sure though.

    Bottom line, I would like to see if any of those devices can function as a drop in addition in a house with an encrypted wireless network and a NAS/file server. Assuming of course that all the other components (NAS/File server, access pint etc) can support the required bitrates.

    My experience up to now says no, but I haven't tested any of the more expensive devices. Although spending 300-400$ for a media player seems a lot, considering the prices of cheap, but HD capable laptops/netbooks.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    morpheusMC, Thanks for the pointers.

    Wireless network performance will also be a point for us to consider in the review if it is part of the original specifications of the player. Some versions of Asus O!Play support 802.11n natively, and your suggestions will be handy while reviewing them. For units such as the WDTV Live, it wouldn't make sense, because we would be introducing third party additions to the hardware platform (yet another variable which could go wrong!) to enable this feature. Of course, wired network performance will definitely be tested thoroughly.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    As I said in an email to Anand,

    I would like to see the Ceton InfiniTV reviewed. I think you can stream up to 4 live HD channels at once. Not too sure if the $399 price is justified, but this might be something to consider as an option in the future, since you only need one CableCARD.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    vol7ron,

    We will be having a separate series of articles in the same section which will cover the TV tuners / recorders / PVRs and DVRs. CableCARD products like Ceton's will be dealt with in that series.

    Best Regards
    Reply
  • glugglug - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I have a Jasper XBOX being used as a media center extender. Your power consumption estimate of 140W only applies to the original XBOX, not the Jaspers currently being sold. The Kill-a-Watt tells me it is using just over 90W no matter what it is doing (unless its off). Sitting idle uses the same ~ 90W as playing HD video, and it doesn't go up past 100W during gaming.

    Also, I have yet to encounter a video that was too high a bitrate for it. U.S. HDTV is MPEG2 @ around 15-16Mbps (max 19Mbps). This bitrate of MPEG-2 yields the same quality as roughly 3Mbps H.264. So 10 is actually overkill. Blu-ray rips may have this overkill, but they play just fine. I played an Avatar x264 rip at 20Mbps on the XBOX with no issues. The official maximum bitrate may be 10Mbps, but generally higher bitrate stuff still works. Otherwise you would see a lot more people who use it as an extender complaining in Europe, where their broadcast TV is H.264.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    glugglug, Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    We quoted the official lines on the Xbox capabilities. Still, 90W is very high for a media streamer. There are much more capable media streamers which perform the same task for less than 1/10th the power consumption :) (Agreed, HD playback isn't XBox's main agenda).

    We may touch upon HD playback capability when covering any new Xbox versions that MS decides to put out in the future.
    Reply

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