Media Servers

ISTAR Mini Network Media Tank

ARTICLE INDEX
ISTAR Media Tank

Introduction

Every now and then you run into a product you are so impressed with you just have to share.  The ISTAR Mini Network Media Tank is one of those products.  By all accounts the product is another media extender set top box that you plug into your TV that plays video, music and photos from an attached hard drive or home network.

There are lots of these products on the market.  Some are cheaper and some are more expensive, but no matter how you cut it, most of them are lacking in some way.

Specifications

  • Playback Specifications follow
  • $168.00 USA
  • IStarHD

The ISTAR is no exception, so it also has its limitations, but its simplicity and expansive format support have won me over.  The HDMI implementation is better than most  I have used and if you have a new HDMI receiver I am sure you want to use it.

Before continuing, let me explain what a Network Media Tank is, and define a few more terms that can be confusing.  Network Media Tank is an Operating System and Software distribution (no different than MS windows with Media Center or MAC OS X with iTunes) that is placed on hardware like the ISTAR.  A Media Server is something that has a hard drive that has media files on it (combination Hardware/Software).  A Media Streamer is something that accesses a Media Server over the network and plays files on an Audio or Video system (combination Hardware/Software).  A Media Extender is a fancy media streamer that only works with Microsoft Media Center (Combination Hardware/Software).  Network Media Tank is software made by Syabas to be placed on hardware made by multiple vendors (like ISTAR) to turn their hardware into a media server and streamer.

ISTAR Media Tank Connections

Hardware

What an ugly little box.  Really!  It is light, made out of rough metal and plastic and doesn't even have a power light to tell you when it is on.  You don't get much.  On the front there is a physical power button and an IR receiver.  The back has the gamut of IO connections including HDMI (1.1. in this case but there is another version with HDMI 1.3), VGA, Ethernet, spdif (coax and optical) composite video, stereo RCAs, and a USB port.  There is a SATA/eSATA connector on the side.

ISTAR Media Tank Side

The ISTAR was well packaged and contained most of the cables you need to get started.  To be truthful the cables were fancier looking than the unit itself.  The remote is really basic, and almost all the buttons are the same size (I hate that) and no backlight.

By all accounts, this product is not up to the same standards I usually expect from my Home Theater hardware.  I like amps that weigh 100 pounds and processors with copper plates on the bottom that add weight and the perception of good build quality (whether or not true).   However, I had to give the little unit a chance.

For the technical geeks out there, the version of the ISTAR that I have uses the Sigma Design SMP8635 rev C multimedia processor, has 32MB of Flash RAM, 100Mbit Ethernet.