Media Streamer Platforms Roundupby Ganesh T S on June 13, 2010 7:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Home Theater
- Media Streamer
This segment of the market is dominated by two main semiconductor companies, namely, Sigma Designs and Realtek. Now, Nvidia has jumped into the fray with the Tegra 2 chipset. Undoubtedly, the most famous products using the Sigma chip are the WDTV and the WDTV Live. However, the most powerful ones are the Networked Media Tanks (NMTs) such as Popcorn Hour's PCH-A110 and PCH-C200. With some add-ons, the PCH-C200 can also be considered as a media streamer / Blu-Ray player combo. A slew of media streamers using the Realtek platform have been released in the last few months. The most famous one is the Asus O!Play series. Other interesting offerings include the Xtreamer and the AC Ryan's Playon! HD. The Boxee Box was revealed to be based on the Tegra 2 chipset in CES 2010.
At the end of 2009, Sigma Design had two generations of products going into succesful media streamers, namely the 863x and 865x / 864x series. In all probability, the 865x and the 864x are from the same silicon, with the DRM segments and some video processing units disabled in hardware in the slightly underclocked 865x series. All the products have a MIPS32 processor, with the 863x series sporting a 333 MHz version, while the 865x and 864x sport 500 MHz and 667 MHz versions respectively. The standard USB, Ethernet and SATA connections are available in all the three SOCs, with the 864x also supporting SDIO. In addition to the usual acceleration for H264, VC-1, MPEG-2, DivX and MPEG-1, the Sigma SOCs also supports China's H264 competitor, AVS (864x and 865x only). The only missing piece is support for RMVB. With dedicated audio DSPs, audio codec support is also excellent. Depending on the end-product (whether a hard drive is included in the unit or not), power consumption may vary. While the WDTV (which uses the 8635) has an operational power around 8W, while the WDTV Live (which uses the 8655) has an operational power around 7W. On the other hand, the PCH-A110 (using the 8635) with an internal hard drive has an operational power of 15W. The PCH C-200 (which uses the 8643) is also rated for for a typical operational power of 15W. However, with internal hard drives and the optional Blu-Ray drive, the power draw may momentarily go as high as 70W.
Though Realtek has had multiple generations of SOCs geared towards this market (RTD1061, and now RTD1073 / RTD1283DD), they have not been as successful as Sigma Designs. The first well-known player using Realtek was from Asus, namely, the O!Play HDP-R1. This uses the RTD1073. Xtreamer, which made waves within the media streamer enthusiast community, when it first arrived on the scene, claims to use a specifically designed RTD128x (the 1283DD), which is nothing but a overclocked version of the RTD1073 with probably some unused PVR functionality built in. From the media streaming viewpoint, the technical capabilities of all these products are the same. The RTD1073 utilizes a 400 MHz MIPS32 host CPU with hardware support for decoding Real Media videos. Realtek provides connectivity options similar to the Sigma Designs SOCs. The Asus model goes one step further and exposes one of the SATA interfaces outside the unit as an eSATA port. The Realtek SOC happens to be not as power efficient as the Sigma SOC, with the Asus O!Play's operational power weighing in at a little less than 10W.
The Realtek RTD1283DD
Xtreamer's Secret Sauce
[ Picture Courtesy : User LeFric at mundodvd.com ]
One of the hotly discussed upcoming media streamer is the Boxee Box based on the Tegra 2 chipset. The SOC is based upon a much more powerful dual core ARM Cortex-A9, with a ARM 7 added in for host processor purposes. Standalone, this would beat the MIPS processors in the Realtek and Sigma Design chips hands down. However, Nvidia's HD decode engines have so far been restricted to the PC space, which do not call for a low power implementation. As yet, it is not known what shortcuts have been taken by Nvidia when implementing the decode engine in this space. It has already been reported that high bitrate videos are not supported. How will it stack up against the decode engines of Sigma Designs and Realtek? It will be known soon enough, once the Boxee Box lands in the hands of the reviewers.
Yuixx was one of the highly anticipated local media streamers which never saw the light of day. Based on Intel's CE3100 platform, it represented Intel's one and only shot in this space. Intel has since come out with the CE4100, which is one of the first platforms on which Google TV will run. Though Intel hasn't had much success in the dedicated media streamer market, they now seem to be succeeding at integrating their chipsets into other consumer electronic devices such as TVs and Blu-Ray players. The yet-to-be-released Amino Freedom media streamer is also based on the Intel CE4100. It will be interesting to see how the platform will fare when it reaches the hands of the consumers.
In the meanwhile, the battle between the Sigma and Realtek SOC platforms will become very interesting in the near future. Will Sigma bow down to the requirements of the Asian market and include Real Media support in the future? Will Realtek's roadmap include SOCs with support for dual HD decode? How long will Realtek take to deliver a SDK as stable as Sigma's? It looks to be a pretty busy year ahead for the two companies as they try to encroach upon each other's market share and try to stave off future competition from Nvidia in this space. Sigma already seems to have taken the lead over Realtek with the recent announcement of chips which are 3D enabled.
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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.