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 Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time.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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twol - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkI think the review would have gained from the author having looked at some of the user forums for this area - e.g. Mpcclub, avsforum - where there is a wealth of information on these devices and their popularity, some of the most popular are not mentioned in this article unfortunately .
ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - linktwol, Thanks for the tips. I am quite active on AVS Forums, and I also keep a lookout for HiJack's posts on MPCClub.
Our readers would hugely benefit from the content on those sites, but our reviews and analysis are intended to complement the content on those forums.
To the best of our knowledge, there is no English review site which has a standardized test suite for media streamers. We intend to create one with the help of our readers. This is only part of the story! You will also get Anandtech's unique style of SoC and system analysis in the reviews and articles. I hope this will help consumers to identify whether a company is just plain lazy, or the base hardware platform doesn't have enough power for a certain task when they demand features from their media streamer.
Golgatha - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkA bit of background:
I recently purchased a newer and bigger home. At my last residence I had just my 32in Sharp Aquos (for my HTPC) and 22in TV/Gaming Rig Samsung monitor as the only screens in the house. At my new residence we plan to use the old Sharp Aquos TV upstairs, buy a newer and bigger TV for downstairs, and install a smaller TV in the kitchen area. I transcode my DVDs to MP4 with the audio left untouched for the most part. I also stream Pandora, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube etc. through TVersity.
I just recently got my GbE network set back up downstairs and have my XBox 360 and PS3 streaming content from a Tversity DLNA server to my main 32in TV (we plan to buy something bigger and put this one upstairs above the fireplace) and 22in HDTV/Monitor at my PC. This is mainly for my family's benefit, as I just watch videos directly from the HTPC on my main 32in HDTV, while navigating around with a Logitech DiNovo Mini. For the 2 new upstairs locations, I had some choices to make.
Location 1 - 32in Sharp Aquos 1080p HDTV
Basically for $100-$150 more than a local network enabled streaming box, I can put a 120GB PS3 behind my 32in HDTV and control everything with a PS3 Bluetooth remote, which doesn't need line-of-sight transmission to work. This is advantageous because we can play all our Blu-ray disc content and all our streaming media from one device. Also, the space for this TV is above a large fireplace, so line-of-sight transmission would require standing up and lifting the remote in the air to change anything. Not acceptable for a sitting room and the Bluetooth remote fits the bill nicely and cheaply. The TV's IR receiver is easily seen and settings on the TV can be changed easily from a sitting position, so that's not a problem.
Location 2 - Yet to be purchased wall mounted TV
I'm kind of unsure about this location and this is where I hope Anandtech reviews and user experience can help me out. I need a smallish local streaming enabled device, which can be easily mounted to a wall, and is not very intrusive space wise. I envision it beside an extendable mounting arm, with the 19 or 22in TV covering most of it up. An Apple TV or WD Live unit would seem to fit the bill here. I do however wonder what the maximum bitrate one can stream is for these devices, and if the wired ports are GbE or 10/100Mbps Ethernet. I also wonder how they handle a 5.1 encoded file when outputting it in stereo, since most of my transcoded DVDs are 5.1, but my upstairs locations will just be using the TV speakers or a simple stereo setup at the most. Finally I wonder if iTunes will require re-transcoding of my already transcoded files, and if either one will be able to stream from my TVersity server. That's a lot of questions and I almost wonder if a Slim PS3 wouldn't be the easiest solution since I'm used to using it already and I know what its limitations are as far as streaming is concerned.
ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkGolgatha,
Currently, there are no shipping media streamers with Gigabit Ethernet. Looking at your background, I would suggest that you go with something you already have experience with, i.e, a Slim PS3, since you are already aware of its limitations. Any other product you purchase is probably going to present you with new challenges to overcome.
papaki - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkYou should definitely test LG's BD570. It doesn't have to do with the fact that I bought it just 1,5 month ago and even after 2 updates it's wireless speed continues to drop to ~1Mbps when streaming through the provided Nero's Essential version of Media Home (grrr), it's just that its wired speed and the wireless as well, when streaming from Win7's own streaming setup, is perfectly adequate (~20Mbps from a 802.11g modem/router - perfect for even a 1080 mkv file)... (Btw, Win7's streaming service is lower in capabilities that Media Home's, so this is why I'm writing these) (Also, the player shows the exact same behavior when it tries to stream via wireless from other programs, such as TVersity. Mezzmo etc.) Of course, I don't expect Anandtech to become the technical support of my player - just pointing out an issue for you.
ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkpapaki,
Thanks for the pointers.
I have personally played around with the LG-BD390, and while it may not be the best media streamer, its feature set when considering that it is a Blu Ray player, is indeed very good.
We will try to review the LG-BD570, but no guarantees :)
wiak - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkAMD 780G aka Radeon HD 3200 was the FIRST chipset that had hardware acceleration of Blu-Ray Disc codecs in full 1080p and is still a good chipset, 2 years after its release
and ION is basicly a renamed Geforce 9300 chipset for atom
wiak - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkAMD 780G: Preview of the Best Current IGP Solution
oooh the irony
ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkIon is a renamed GeForce 9400 ; It is not a IGP per-se ;
The 3200 is a very good IGP, but it simply lacks a lot of hardware acceleration modes that Nvidia users take for granted. [ http://imouto.my/watching-h264-videos-using-dxva/ ]
This is why I would personally recommend the Ion over the 3200 IGP right now. Maybe, in 2008 (when the Anandtech article you have cited below was posted), HD 3200 was the best IGP in the market, but not any more.
Aikouka - Monday, June 14, 2010 - linkI'd highly recommend comparing available features (in your list) to how much the device costs. Usually people are willing to settle and remove a feature if it means a significantly lower cost.
It also might be worthwhile to compare a custom HTPC, maybe with your own list of components to try and compete. That concept might possibly even become something completely different.. evaluations of available software for HTPCs. I know I've had quite a hellish time working with Windows Media Center and videos of certain sizes. Awhile back, I simply gave up and just used the normal Explorer GUI with Media Player Classic, because at least it didn't crop videos making me unable to read the subtitles.