Go to Home Page

Click Here to Go to Index for All Media Server Reviews

 

Product Review
 

Pixel Magic HD MediaBox MB200 High Definition Media Player (Media Server)

Part II

July, 2006

Ofer LaOr

 

Set-up

Setting up the MB200 requires very little knowledge. This is a clear benefit over HTPC solutions that require fiddling around with filters, players, power strip timing, etc. This unit is mostly plug & play.

The only caveat is the initial set-up, made a bit complex due to the utter lack of buttons on the actual unit itself. To configure it initially, the user must read the manual to discover that he has to press the Video Modes button and then a numeric button in order to go through major video modes (HDMI, DVI, RGBHV and component) in their default video settings (usually 480p, which is supported in most modes). Once a video connection is established with the display, one can set up the system.

Menu options are fairly simple to understand. Not all the default options are ideal, though. For example, the unit defaults to PCM output on its digital audio output, which can cause movies to sound bland (after all, 5.1 is obviously better than stereo, for movie content). Other set-up features include more specific video modes (many popular plasma and projector resolutions are natively available here, as well as 1080i and even 1080p!).

An Auto EDID feature automatically detects the display's ideal resolution, and this worked very that worked very well in my testing. Additional features allow for 50Hz/60Hz auto switching, a particularly useful feature when dealing with European content.

The unit's software is simple . . . too simple in fact. The Main menu shows the list of connections (Network, two USB connections, and the internal drive). Once there, you are already looking into specific directories. You can view all supported media files, or list just media files of a specific types (video, audio, pictures). Once a media file is selected, it immediately starts playback. When using 16:9 aspect ratio, the screen strangely gets smaller (probably because the menus were originally designed as 4:3), which means black bars on the sides (a big no-no for plasmas) show up inexplicably.

File names are pretty big, which doesn't leave much room if you tend to use verbose names (I do). Auto switching 50 Hz means that you should add "50Hz" somewhere in the file name to let the unit determine that 50 Hz is in effect (once again, a great feature!).

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

I encountered problems with fast forwarding and rewind, as with many other devices of this type. The root of the problem is the Sigma Designs SDK which has still not stabilized and may introduce problems in this respect. However, with each iteration of the MB200's firmware (there have been three already), there has been a clear improvement on the stability of the software, and many issues are slowly resolving themselves.

One feature that is particularly useful is the Search function that allows you to jump to a particular spot in the movie. I would love for this feature to show me where I am located in the movie at the moment (it defaults to 0:0:0), and also let me know the total length of the movie I'm currently watching. A second neat feature is the ability to automatically resume the last movie I was watching after stopping the unit for any reason.

The MB200 is an "Audiophile" version of the unit, but mp3 and audiophile usually don't go together (future support for FLAC or APE files might do the trick, though!). I also find it hard to believe users will want to play back audio from the analog outputs of the unit, because they will likely use the digital outputs (which are excellent) and connect the unit to a receiver or DAC/preamplifier.

Performance

I connected the MB200 to a Denon AV-4306 receiver. Using the space flight sequence from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, I noted that the audio sounded great. One issue I did notice was occasional lipsync issues with the video source, which were fixed after pressing the Media button during playback. The reason for this is unknown. Although the manual states that the unit supports switching between soundtracks, I was unable to get this feature to work on German/English soundtrack Transport Stream files.

From a video perspective, the MB200 recently got a boost from the new firmware release, which improved the video performance. Picture quality was great on both RGBHV and HDMI. Watching the ice training scenes in Batman Begins was a real pleasure, and every detail of the ice was clearly visible.

Aspect ratio control is non-existent on this unit and that's is a real shame. I would hope that this feature can be added, as well as separate controls over vertical and horizontal zoom. Zoom features, however, are easy to use, and I can easily reach 200% zoom or more on 1080i/p content before it starts looking like a standard definition DVD.

Network support is one of the unit's features that are lacking at this point in time. While Pixel Magic's support for SMB is better than some implementations I've seen (i.e., it supports multiple NAS units), it's still insufficient for transferring HD content across the network. SMB will work fine for SD content, but it is a very slow protocol (originally designed by Microsoft for Windows 95/98). Pixel Magic has already issued a statement that NFS (a higher speed UNIX protocol) will be added soon, but this is a protocol that Windows users will find unfamiliar. I would hope that Pixel Magic considers adding UP&P to their arsenal. Universal Plug & Play is promoted by Microsoft and is an integral part of Windows XP (Windows Media Connect, this protocol's server component, is freely distributed by Microsoft, and other better software such as Twonky Vision's Media Server are available for a reasonable price).

One benefit of adding support for NFS is on Pixel Magic's roadmap for this product, the ability for the MediaBox itself to turn into a NAS box! This allows one to treat the MB100/200 as a remote server on the network, copy files to it (or from it) remotely. When added, this will clearly boost this product's value, and I am looking forward to a new firmware release with this improvement.

Conclusions

The MediaBox MB200 is a solid unit, but one that's still in development. The potential of such a product is huge. I was able to move some of my HDV home movie footage and play it back on the unit, causing some major jaw dropping action on part of visiting family members.

I hope that Pixel Magic continues to add additional features, including Universal Plug & Play, improve stability and continue to listen to its growing fan base in the forums.
 

- Ofer LaOr -

Mr. LaOr is Editor of Hometheater.Co.Il, a Hi-Fi magazine published in Israel. He is also the moderator for the AVS Forum Video Processing section.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Go to Table of Contents for this Issue

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use