Media Streamer Platforms Roundupby Ganesh T S on June 13, 2010 7:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Home Theater
- Media Streamer
Devices such as the Vudu and the Roku boxes fall under this category. They aim to do one thing and do it well by restricting themselves to some VOD services and presenting their users with an environment similar to DVD renting, only online. Local media can't be played through them. Some of the SOC platforms which have found traction in this market include NXP STB 236 and Broadcom BCM7401. These SOCs were primarily designed for the IP set top boxes (Vudu and Roku may also be termed IP set top boxes, but at a more basic level compared to what these were originally designed for). These platforms do not support DTS audio, which is pretty much a pre-requisite nowadays for products geared towards the media streaming audience.
The Roku HD streamer introduced recently utilizes the NXP platform with a 320 MHz MIPS32 host processor. The STB 236 platform uses the PNX8336 at its core. H264 and VC1 seem to be supported codecs for hardware acceleration, while MPEG-2 seems to be only partially supported. The SOC has suitable connectivity options including USB, SATA and Ethernet. However, HDMI is not integrated in the SOC. The PNX8336 was released in April 2008. Since then, NXP has released video decoder chips targeted towards the TV and the DVR markets in December 2008 and March 2009. However, they seem to miss the mark as far as the features required for a media streamer device go. It will be interesting to see what Roku has in its roadmap, and whether they would shift suppliers for future products. The Roku HD-XR has a USB port, but it serves no discernible usefulness at present. The unit has an operational power consumption of 6W.
Vudu & Roku
Media Streamers Based on IP Set Top Box Platforms
Vudu, on the other hand, has realized that selling a restrictive IP set top box in this market is not an easy task. It is now striving to remodel itself as a service provider of sorts by integrating their software into the next generation Blu Ray players and TVs. Still, it is interesting to take a look at the platform behind their original device. It is based on Broadcom's BCM7401 (which also happens to have a 300 MHz MIPS32 host processor), which provides support for H264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 decode. Connectivity options include the standard set of USB, SATA and Ethernet. Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time. It is also puzzling as to why the BCM7400B which provides support for DivX decoding wasn't used. That would have probably made the box closer to what the media streamer market needs. Vudu, unlike Roku, also provides the ability to purchase and download movies from their collection. This necessiates a hard disk inside their unit, which puts the operational power consumption much higher than Roku's at 18W.
All said and done, the days of these types of media streamers are numbered. They have to evolve themselves to different types of products in the coming years in order to survive in this market.
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ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkscJohn,
Thanks for the link. We already have 2 files from that link which are L4.1 compliant H264, but fail on the WDTV as well as the WDTV Live.
We will pick up more files from that site, as you have suggested.
Points from your comments for our reviews:
(1) Add long clips to test suite
(2) Frequency of firmware updates (assign grades to company)
(3) Difference between reference platform from chip manufacturer and the product platform ; Missing / Additional features between chip manufacturer's SDK and product platform's firmware base.
darkeyes909 - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - linkBefore anyone else there was Avel Link, a Philips dvd that played divx etc. and a Plextor unit that played various media files.
gigahertz20 - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - linkI just want to know what product is the best for videos with high bit rates. Right now I have a Popcorn Hour A-110 and it has worked pretty good for the last year and a half or so. I've never really stressed it though with a super high bit rate movie though.
ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkgigahertz20,
Off a local drive mounted on USB, there is probably no difference between different products based on the same chipset. As of now, both Sigma and Realtek are comparable as far as high bit rate videos are concerned (Both can play Blu Ray compliant clips easily). I think your A-110 will probably not have any trouble with high bit rate movies, and if it does have, it probably fails on current generation chipsets too.
As long as you stay away from the Chips & Media IP products like the HDX Bone (which are mainly for PMPs), you should be fine :)
stormcrow216 - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - linkSomething that matters a lot to me in a streaming box and that I'm not seeing a lot about in your articles, is the ability to display web content. I don't mean youtube or netflix, I mean random web pages without video attached. Do all of these devices support this? None of them? A true HTPC would do this of course, and that's kind of my default circumstance right now. But I'd rather have something more streamlined.
ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkstormcrow216,
This is something many people would like, but it blurs the distinction between HTPCs and media streamers. As embedded processors become more and more powerful, we will see improvements on media streamers such as Tegra 2 based Boxee TV. Right now, they are in a 'neither here - nor there' situation, as they supposedly don't support Blu Ray compliant clips and also don't have a full featured web browser. A year or so down the line, I am sure things will improve to where we want them to be right now!
ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkstormcrow216,
Do peruse this link: http://www.opera.com/press/releases/2010/05/03/
It looks like we may get web browsing on Realtek based products in the near future (However, I am sure it is going to be severely crippled by the lack of horsepower, since all it has is a MIPS processor inside, clocked pretty low compared to the traditional HTPC).
daskino - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkGanesh T S do you happen to have a email i can contact you on?
ganeshts - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkdaskino,
You can contact me at: ganeshDOTfilesATgmail
Modelworks - Monday, June 21, 2010 - linkA few bits of information about the Live. WD has a new version called the WDTV Live Plus. This version uses similar hardware but uses the sigma chip with macrovision support . It was necessary to support netflix. The pricing seems to be about $120 so not much different from the earlier one.
The WDTV Live has custom firmware available. The box runs linux and with the curstom firmware users can access it just like any other linux system. People have added torrent, web services, OSD mods, and more . You can run things in the background like torrents, ftp and more and it doesn't effect the video performance thanks to the offloading of the decoding to the hardware. On board ram is 512MB, with about 180MB for user programs. Changing firmware is as easy as using a usb flash drive and you can change it back to retail easily if you want.
The plus version of the box does not have custom firmware yet.
This forum has more info: