Media Streamer Platforms Roundupby Ganesh T S on June 13, 2010 7:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Home Theater
- Media Streamer
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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StormyParis - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkI'm disappointed by your excluding AMD. I seem to remember a test in which Dell's Zino HD played Bluray perfectly, and HD Flash almost perfectly with a beta flash player. That makes it "good enough" in my book, and I'm contemplating either a Zino or an AMD Zbox for my next Office PC.
ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkI did mention the Zino HD in the final paragraph on Page 2 (HTPC based platforms). In our opinion, the Ion / Atom based nettops are somewhat better than the AMD based nettops. If the ZinoHD or the Zbox had a HD 4xxx series based motherboard, things could have been a little different. As is, the Ion series gives same video decode capabilities as the GeForce 9400.. while the Zbox / ZinoHD tend to not have the same capabilities ; All said, it depends on the usage scenario, and if Blu Ray and flash playback is all that you need, then the Zino / Zbox might be well suited.
Hubble70 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkThe Zino HD has an available 4330 graphics card if you want HD audio and better video performance. Also, the Zino's deinterlacing performance is subpar not because of the onboard graphics, but because it uses an Athlon based CPU that uses hypertransport 2.0 instead of an Athlon II CPU that has hypertransport 3.0. The onboard graphics is memory bandwidth starved, and the 3200 graphics in the Zino is perfectly capable of good deinterlacing if you drop in a CPU with hypertransport 3. Either way, its still able to do full acceleration of BD and other formats.
ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkThanks, fixed :)
ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkSorry, my bad! Fixed :)
JPVann - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkAlthough they are hacked using existing APIs, there are two different projects that now stream both Music and Video to your TV via the ROKU. Both install extremely easily and require no hacking or programming skills.
Coupled with all the current 'Channels', Netflix, MLB Baseball, Facebook etc the ROKU is one capable box. Upgrades have been constant and full of content since I bought mine last Nov.
ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkJPVann, Thanks for the info. Since local media playback is not officially supported, we classified Roku as a Internet only media streamer. Hopefully, the new Roku box will officially support streaming media through its USB port.
The problem with the original Roku is that there is no USB port. So, the user is at the mercy of his network connection speeds for high definition Blu Ray videos. Local content 'streamers' usually have USB or eSATA ports, and that is our criterion to classify a player as a local media streamer.
Another issue with both Roku and Vudu is that they utilize chipsets originally intended for set top boxes and not dedicated media streamers. As such, the experience delivered from the WDTVs and the OPlays are quite different from the restricted environment of the IP set top box platforms.
CorrND - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - linkI agree, Roku is quite capable, very affordable and already has the Channel Store (aka App Store) model that is a leading contender model for future content delivery. They have an installed base of 500k (as of January '10), expected to increase to nearly 1M this year, and a non-exclusive (but preferential) partner in Netflix. For a relative newcomer, they're sitting on pretty good ground for now.
The thing that is going to kill Roku is the rumors that Apple is going to re-release Apple TV with the iPhone/iPad OS. That will place Apple TV in direct competition with the Channel/App Store model that Roku already uses. The difference will be the additional Apple clout and industry connections that Roku can't possibly compete with.
flamethrower - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - linkIs support for Asian characters. Basically does the thing support unicode in subtitles and filenames.
That is probably not something many people in the Anandtech audience would like to see tested though. It might be included in "multiple subtitle formats" but I think you had something else in mind for testing this.
ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkflamethrower, Thanks for the pointer. We will keep this in mind. In fact, we already have a sample file with subtitles in more than 20 different languages (though this particular file is not related to the 'multiple subtitle formats' we mentioned). We will report languages which don't display correctly in the review.