Media Servers

ISTAR Mini Network Media Tank


Getting started

To begin, you just turn the power switch on, then hit the power button on the remote and the unit comes to life (as long as you have it plugged into some form of display, otherwise you wouldn't have a clue if it was on or off).  It takes a minute or so for start up (boot if you want to call it that) to complete.  During your wait-time, you are presented with an "ISTAR loading" screen.

Once the unit has booted, it has a very simple menu structure.  Going into the setup allows choice of what resolution you want to output to your display (ranging from NTSC to 1080p including 24fps, 30fps and PAL based frequencies).  The composite video stays active, outputting 480i all the time regardless of what output resolution you have chosen for the HDMI/VGA jack.  You can choose default sub-title and languages for audio-tracks, provided the source you are playing supports that (it did work with the ripped/archived DVDs I tried).

The same setup menu allows you to choose, if you want, to send audio over HDMI and to select what to do with sound encoding like AC-3 or DTS (convert  to LPCM or send bit stream).  It is important to note this particular unit can only output DTS via bit stream, but I believe the newer version will decode it to LPCM and also support Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio via bit stream.

You can set up the unit to get files from just about anywhere on the network and support just about every network file sharing method I can think of, including SMB (or Windows file sharing), Bonjour Service (MAC), FTP, NFS (Standard UNIX flavors), etc.  Each location you set up, from which to get files, shows up as a media source from the top menu.  Any device plugged into the device via SATA or USB also shows up as a media source.

In Use

The entire user experience is driven by choosing a media source first and then selecting what type of media you would like to play from that source. Choosing the source then presents the user with an option to play Videos, Music, Pictures, or Web Content.  Choosing any of these options presents the user with the file structure of that media source, allowing the user to navigate to media files. Clicking on the file (or folder, in the case of an archived DVD) plays the media.  In the case of clicking on an archived DVD, the system supports the full DVD menu structure, selection of different audio tracks, subtitles and even the FBI Warnings. This is completely backwards to 90% of the other media extenders and HTPC front ends which present you with the media type first then the navigation of the media sources.  Honestly, it doesn't matter which way it works because you end up with the same result.

Browsing the media sources is somewhat slow.  It takes a few seconds everytime you click on a new directory or media source.

Picture browsing is about the same as any other media extender, but you cannot edit files like you can using Vista Media Center (VMC) or some of the other HTPC front ends.  The Music option is also pretty simple, but has all the basic requirements.