Media FILE Players: Recommendations

LoneSwan

New member
My first experience with a "Media Player" was the DViCO TViX M-4000P, purchased September, 2007 from www.digitalconnection.com. I believe these devices are a far superior alternative to a Home Theater PC (which I also have set up). The reasons are numerous and rather obvious. I'll enumerate, if requested.

Media Players as opposed to DVD or video tape players/recorders, play "computer" FILEs. These files are stored on a computer's hard drive(s), external drives, or a file server accessed over a network. I'd rather refer to these things as "File Players", because that really is the main point.

The TViX units are somewhat expensive. I caught a close-out sale on an older version and the price was just over $200. The current model M6500A is $300(from Digital Connection). The important difference between these and later introductions from major computer component manufacturers Western Digital & Asus, is that the TViX players house an internal hard drive. This was important (in 2007) because transfer from external drive over USB was sometimes too slow for High Definition(MPEG 2 HD) content. That handicap has been overcome in the WDTV from Western Digital. My guess is the later version of Sigma Designs processor (the -heart- of this technology) does an improved job of buffering the data input?

Western Digital and recently, Asus have introduced network capable media players. The one from Asus is available from www.Newegg.com; December price was $89. The Asus is probably the best value, at this time.

I don't use a network. My movies are sent through an HDMI connection from a Western Digital (1st generation) player to a big screen LCD TV. I use external hard drives for storage.

The TViX plays MPEG-2 High Definition files in a "transport sream container"(*.ts files), but not H.264/MPEG-4. This is the reason I bought the WDTV player. The WDTV (and new Asus) will play Bluray (*.m2ts) files as well as other variants of H.264(see their file type support in product specs available on manufacturer's website).

The players use "chips" made by Sigma Designs(WDTV & TViX) or Realtek(Asus). All the magic is contained in the chip; chip designers also make most of the hardware-based programming(is updated frequently), so the actual vendor of the box is mainly responsible for physical design such as the remote control, user interface, and providing update downloads for the end user.

Once you embrace the concept of using these devices, DVD players/recorders become pretty much irrelevant. For HD content in particular, this is really the best path for captured video.

And now a plug for "our sponsor", i.e.: VideoReDo. Immediately after starting my movie captures with a Nextcom R5000HD working in a Motorola 4DTV C-band satellite system (August 2007) I realized that these files needed to be post-processed with a video file fixing tool.

Besides the nice touch of trimming movie beginning/end, errors in the original capture could cause the media player to malfunction. I also found that Dolby AC3 6 channel would be output as 2 channel by the WDTV if the beginning of the movie was not carefully trimmed to eliminate the lead-in from the supplier (Starz or HBO HD satellite master feeds). Evidently, the pre/between movie content is 2 channel and the WDTV locked onto that output and would not changeover to the 6 channel(5.1 Digital) of the movie. [Computer players (HTPC) do switch audio output, thus following the source.]

I use VideoReDo Plus on a daily basis to process movie captures. It does an excellent job in this small(?) but critical role, and is straight forward in use.

I believe "file players" are where media content playback is headed. File processing programs like VideoReDo will be integral to this.

Walker, in VA
 

dezzy

Member
Yes, I fully embrace this approach. For several years I have been using a Beyonwiz PVR as our media player. It will also play .avi files from various sources, including Mpeg4.

I record TV with multiple tuners in my computer. Disk space is plentiful and cheap so I can use long lead-in and lead-out times in these recordings to allow for the erratic TV schedules and can record HD and SD content. In Australia it is currently Mpeg2.

Edit these files with TVS to remove the ads and ends and save as .ts on to an external USB connected disk. It will work equally well with network storage. Then play back using the Beyonwiz that is connected to the external USB disk and the family TV.

The edited .ts files contain a subtitle stream, however, due to some limitations in the software the Beyonwiz can not display these embedded subtitles. If I wish to display subtitles, I first need to extract a text subtitle stream, that I do with ProjectX.

It would be nice if there was no need to extract the subtitles before the media player would display. My enquiries have so far not found one with that capability. Perhaps someone can suggest.

I can view the subtitles Ok if played with DVBViewer or VLC in the computer.
 

drewster

Member
Excellent post LoneSwan. I hope this thread gets a lot of activity and leads to a sticky. I have a Hauppauge MediaMVP but it's playback is limited; basically it plays what VRD V3 outputs. It has limited support for DivX but I'm having difficulty finding a repeatable process to get AVIs in DivX/Xvid to play reliably on it. I have comcast and capture channels 1-99 using Hauppauge PVR-150MCE and PVR=250 (to these untrained eyes I can barely tell a difference in quality). With the move to HD I'm not sure what I'll do re: TV capture. I'm thinking I'll need another comcast cable box and IR blaster??

Where are the best web sites to look into network media players? I barely know what questions to ask, as I'm not too learned on this space, such as what capabilities to look for (playback formats, wireless, local storage, HDMI, etc).

Thank you!
 

LoneSwan

New member
Excellent & Comprehensive Website: iboum.com

Newegg sent out a promotional offer last week on a new media file player. The units quickly sold out. I'm certain there will be more offers in the near future as more of these players come to market.

The latest from Newegg: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882438004

The above was offered at $89 with free shipping. The Argosy player can hold up to a 2 terabyte SATA hard drive. It works with/without the internal drive; has network support; plays DVD menus from both ISO(image) and VOB Folder(DVD file folder). Also has component video output which is useful for older video displays without HDMI connection.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the significant difference in these players is the "chip" inside the box. However, unlike computers where "Intel Inside" or "AMD" is plastered on the front and touted as a feature, the vendors of these new media players have decided no one knows or cares "what's inside". So it is very difficult to determine what chip is being used.

By doing a Google search trying to answer my standard question {what's inside?}, I eventually located the webpage(below) which basically saved me from "reinventing the wheel". The webmasters from Liverpool(England) have done an outstanding job organizing a comprehensive grouping of these new media file players. The information and included links are quite complete. Start with the link(below) to learn about the magic chip inside the little black box.

http://www.iboum.com/artkill/chipsets.php

Walker, in Virginia
 
Hi Walker, you forgot to mention the Popcorn Hour.
http://www.popcornhour.com/
It is network ready to stream your movies from your computer or file server to the PCH and then to TV via HDMI and AV equipment. It also supports an internal HD and a USB drive.

PCH just released a new version A-200 which has the newest chipset, the Sigma Designs SMP8643 System-on-a-Chip (SoC), (which is much faster than previous models) for $179.

Another PCH or Syabas version is the Popbox which is scheduled for a March release and retails for ~$129. The Popbox is more consumer friendly and will currently be offered for the US first as it supports Netflix.

The chipsets in the WD-HD are exactly the same as the PCH (prior chipset from above) and is also used in many BD players. These devices are not perfect BUT if used within the specifications they excel in many areas.

Mike
 
I have comcast and capture channels 1-99 using Hauppauge PVR-150MCE and PVR=250 (to these untrained eyes I can barely tell a difference in quality). With the move to HD I'm not sure what I'll do re: TV capture. I'm thinking I'll need another comcast cable box and IR blaster??
Hi Drewster, here are my recommendations.
1. Get the Hauppauge HD-PVR--Newegg has it
2. Get the Hauppauge HVR-1850 or 2250 internal card--Newegg has it
3. Get extra (big) HD's to record your video's or a file server
4. Consider a Popcorn Hour streaming media device

The HD-PVR connects to your STB and has a USB cable to connect to your computer. In my case my computer is upstairs and I had to use 2 16 foot USB cables to the comoputer. One of the USB cables has an amplifier built in. The HD-PVR will record everything you are subscribed to on your STB. The bit rate can be adjusted to suit your needs.

The HRV cards plug into your computer and can record OTA provided you have antennas setup and analog from cable. You will not need the 150 and 250 anymore as the HRV cards can do the same.

The Popcorn Hour device will stream all the movies from your HD or file server to you TV set. You just need to run an ethernet cable from your router to the PCH box. PCH supports Wi-Fi but it is really not recommended beacause of signal quality and/or stream rates.
http://www.popcornhour.com/

Good luck, Mike
 
I can also recommend the Popcorn Hour, I have the C200 which I purchased in October. I use a 2.5" 500GB internal drive with 3.5" 1.5TB drive which plugs into the front slot. This allows for you to build a library of hard disks like you would have stored DVDs, you can even get plastic covers for them. I also stream from my network which runs at gigabit speeds. The HDD drive slot can be used for a BlueRay drive but I've opted to use it for the HDD.
But be aware that the 200 series are a new product range and hence the firmware is still a work in progress and is still being improved on with features and bug fixes. I am pleased with it as it does what I bought it for. I now no longer record to DVD etc.

PopCorn Media Tank
 

bits

New member
I am not sure I would use the term network file players mainly because they are mainly referred to as network media players and or network media extenders. The difference between a network media player and a network media extender is that the server software installed on your PC is extended to your TV so that you have full PVR capabilities. Another way to say it is that all network media extenders are network media players but not all network players have extender capability. The WD (the one that can be hooked to the network) is a good example of a network media player that does not have externder capability...it can not be used as a PVR.

I have had and still have a number network media players (Linkplayer2, Ziova) and extenders (x280n and SageTV HD200) and IMHO the SageTV HD200 is a great network media player/extender for the money. I highly recommend it. If you want a network media player with full PVR funcitionality the HD200 should be seriously considered.
 

LoneSwan

New member
PopBox Looks Very Promising!

Thanks to Mike (Floobydust) for posting the heads-up concerning the soon to be released "PopBox". Here is a link to the review on the iboum website:

http://www.iboum.com/pr/popbox.php

This appears to be a very capable media player and the price {~$129} is right! I do not have high speed Internet access, so network considerations are not relevant for me. However, my brother has been looking for a device that can stream content from Netflix and the PopBox has this ability. It seems it is using a 1 gig network speed which is probably necessary for reliable streaming of high bitrate (i.e.: Bluray) media files, though I don't think Netflix via the Internet will ever be in this category.

I will consider one of these (PopBox) for myself. It is close to the WDTV in price and may have the ability to display Bluray menu structures. Will have to wait & see; but it definitely will play Bluray *.m2ts movie files.

Walker
 

bits

New member
Thanks to Mike (Floobydust) for posting the heads-up concerning the soon to be released "PopBox". Here is a link to the review on the iboum website:

http://www.iboum.com/pr/popbox.php

This appears to be a very capable media player and the price {~$129} is right! I do not have high speed Internet access, so network considerations are not relevant for me. However, my brother has been looking for a device that can stream content from Netflix and the PopBox has this ability. It seems it is using a 1 gig network speed which is probably necessary for reliable streaming of high bitrate (i.e.: Bluray) media files, though I don't think Netflix via the Internet will ever be in this category.

I will consider one of these (PopBox) for myself. It is close to the WDTV in price and may have the ability to display Bluray menu structures. Will have to wait & see; but it definitely will play Bluray *.m2ts movie files.

Walker
I do not believe you need gig network speed to smoothly stream full BD rips. My network is 10/100 and I routinely stream full BD rips to my HD200 which play without video or audio stutter.

BTW I also stream Netflix and Hulu at their current highest resolution/bitrates without stutter as well over my antiquated 10/100 wired network to my HD200. I should add that my home network, which is mostly wired, has 4 PCs and three network media players connected to it; so at times it is pretty heavily used and so far I have not had issues.
 
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bits is correct, you do not need a Gigabit network to stream BluRay video. If I am not mistaken depending on the protocol used the maximum streaming bitrate is 45-55 Mbps--this is from HD to PCH ethernet. This is more than enough for BluRay rips. The Gigabit would be more applicable for file transfers from main computer to say the HD within the PCH.

LoneSwan, if you brother is looking for streaming Netlfix then take a look at PlayOn.
http://www.playon.tv/playon
It is a stand alone app that runs on your computer and streams various content like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc to the Xbox, PS3, and others including the PCH. It costs $40 BUT has a free 14 day trial. Get on their mailing list and they will notify you of special deals periodically for half price or $10 off.

The difference between Playon and the PCH (with Netflix for example) is that Playon will convert accepted streams like .flv and .mp4 to .mpg and then stream it to the device where the PCH will only accept standard formats like mp4 or H.264. Sayabas either has a license is working on getting one for Netflix. The only limitation is that Netflix would need to provide a compatable streamable format like .mp4 or h.264 for the PCH. Currently the PCH can not do .flv yet--however there is discussion about Flash-Lite which may be a subset of the ''real'' flash.:confused: For example, the PCH can do YouTube but it has to be non-flv. YouTube does supply .mp4 videos (mostly newer videos) but normally within your web browser you see the flash version.

HTH, Mike
 

bits

New member
Thanks to Mike (Floobydust) for posting the heads-up concerning the soon to be released "PopBox". Here is a link to the review on the iboum website:

http://www.iboum.com/pr/popbox.php

This appears to be a very capable media player and the price {~$129} is right! I do not have high speed Internet access, so network considerations are not relevant for me. However, my brother has been looking for a device that can stream content from Netflix and the PopBox has this ability. It seems it is using a 1 gig network speed which is probably necessary for reliable streaming of high bitrate (i.e.: Bluray) media files, though I don't think Netflix via the Internet will ever be in this category.

I will consider one of these (PopBox) for myself. It is close to the WDTV in price and may have the ability to display Bluray menu structures. Will have to wait & see; but it definitely will play Bluray *.m2ts movie files.

Walker
Wait and see is a good strategy for newly or soon to be released network media players. IMO you should wait at least 6-8 months before purchasing an unproven player.

One other point and that is that .m2ts is a wrapper that can contain VC-1 or AVCHD, so be sure that the device you choose plays both video file types because BDs can be either one.
 
Wait and see is a good strategy for newly or soon to be released network media players. IMO you should wait at least 6-8 months before purchasing an unproven player.
PCH released a new device last month called the A-200 which is a stripped down version of their C-200. Now from my understanding the PopBox and A-200 are very similair except for the fact that the PopBox will support Netflix out of the box where the A-200 does not. This is due to Netflix only being available in the USA. The A-200 has what Sayabas calls a Rich UI or User Interface which they have been working on since the A-200 release and will migrated over to the C-200 and which will be part of the PopBox when released. The PopBox is [I think] intended to be more user-friendly than the other PCH units which would make it competitive with the WD unit. Which also suggests that the most of the ''debugging'' is occuring now with the A-200. So I think the PopBox would be worthy when ready.

One other point and that is that .m2ts is a wrapper that can contain VC-1 or AVCHD, so be sure that the device you choose plays both video file types because BDs can be either one.
http://www.popcornhour.com/onlinestore/index.php?pluginoption=productspec&item_id=20

The PCH already supports the .m2ts format and has for some time. The only trap here is the quality of the tool used to extract the video from the DVD/BRD. Some tools only do a fair job and you pay for what you get. This will be evident when playing back through the PCH.

I have read about many users complain that the PCH will not play some files but will play on their computers--the software decoders are more forgiving than the hardware decoders. Reading the posts about resolutions is that these bad files need to be ''repaired''. I believe it is because the since the PCH is hardware-driven the firmware follows the specification of the video container and the extracted video falls outside the specification for what ever reason. Once the video is ''repaired'' then it plays fine in the PCH.

Mike
 
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