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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  • Stokestack - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    An oft-ignored product category is that which streams content FROM your cable or satellite box TO your computer. I don't really care about watching crap-quality compressed video on my big TV, but I would like to watch shows from my cable box on a laptop in my kitchen or home office.

    Please include products that perform this task too. Thanks!
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Stokestack, yes, we are working on covering these devices too, but in a separate series of articles in this very section. Do you have any particular devices in this category that you would like us to review? Reply
  • Stokestack - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the response.

    The first product that comes to mind is Slingbox, and that might even be overkill for just viewing stuff around the house. I don't really care about transmitting stuff over the Internet to watch remotely.

    Another appears to be the HAVA Platinum HD TV Device.

    And, uh... those were the only ones I could find. I guess this could be a very series.
    Reply
  • Stokestack - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    SHORT series, that is. Reply
  • Hubble70 - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Hauppauge HD-PVR over component up to 1080i / digital audio
    Blackmagic over component and HDMI up to 1080p
    Avermedia over component up to 1080i / analog audio
    Reply
  • nexox - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    I've got a Popcorn Hour A-110, and I'm nearly entirely impressed with it. All it really needs is a much better menu system. I'm hoping that the Popbox fixes that, if it ever comes out.

    I'd like to point out one of my main concerns with these sorts of devices, which the PCH series handles, and which many others don't: NFS.

    I understand that lots of people use Windows with the built in CIFS file sharing, or even UPNP/DNLA, but honestly those protocols are pretty weak when compared with NFS (especially over UDP on wired ethernet.) Since I don't use Windows, NFS is the natrual choice, but I've found little information on whether most of the current generation of media renderers support NFS well or at all.

    And lots more people than just Linux users would potentially benefit from NFS - many of those little NAS boxes people like so much can do much higher performance with NFS than CIFS or UPNP, which means higher bitrate video, less skipping, and better wifi performance.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Yes, NFS is one of the best network sharing protocols. The WDTV Live also supports it in the custom firmware. We will add this to our testing methodology for reviews:

    (1) Network / Local file system and communication protocol support.
    Reply
  • daskino - Monday, June 21, 2010 - link

    however it is only the original WDTV that supports NFS the the Live and the live plus and the next gen wdtv oes not support true NFS olny by CIFF interceptor Reply
  • Modeverything - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    This looked like a really nice streamer for only $88.

    http://www.brite-view.com/cinematube.php
    Reply
  • DieterBSD - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    ganeshts writes,
    > DVI and DisplayPort are not aimed at the multimedia market. DVI is unable
    > to carry audio signals, while DisplayPort connectors are not present on
    > TVs / AV receivers which are common parts of a home theater system. Like
    > it or not, home theater enthusiasts seem to be stuck with the HDMI
    > standard rather than the royalty free DisplayPort

    My point is that many people already have a TV/monitor/display/projector
    that does not have HDMI, so they might not care if a streamer has HDMI
    or not. I've read plenty of complaints about HDMI, apparently the
    connector likes to fall off. What counts is if the streamer has the
    outputs the user wants/needs. Unfortunately there are quite a few
    these days: RF, composite, s-video, component, DVI, HDMI, displayport.
    A computer monitor might require the so-called VGA, and there are
    at least three varieties: separate H & V sync, composite sync, and
    sync-on-green. Streamers aren't just useful for the main TV, people
    might want to use one with an older TV in another room.

    Then there is DiiVA:
    http://www.brightsideofnews.com/news/2009/4/22/eth...
    http://admin.virtualpressoffice.com/SupportingDocC...
    Unfortunately I haven't heard of any products with DiiVA. :-(

    Stokestack writes,
    > An oft-ignored product category is that which streams content FROM your
    > cable or satellite box TO your computer. I don't really care about watching
    > crap-quality compressed video on my big TV, but I would like to watch shows
    > from my cable box on a laptop in my kitchen or home office. Please include
    > products that perform this task too. Thanks!

    An excellent idea, although I would suggest making these a separate article.

    nexox writes,
    > I understand that lots of people use Windows with the built in CIFS file
    > sharing, or even UPNP/DNLA, but honestly those protocols are pretty weak
    > when compared with NFS (especially over UDP on wired ethernet.)

    And do the boxes support NFS over TCP? (Older implementations of NFS
    were UDP only.) Personally I'd like to see something better than NFS.
    Too bad that popularity seems to be inversely related to quality.
    Reply

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