|Manufacturer: Xtreamer||Model: Xtreamer Media Player and Streamer|
|Price: £99 (UK)||Web: http://www.thextreamer.com|
Whilst Digital Media Receivers continue to win the hearts of geeks, they’re still to hit the big time. We’ve seen companies large and small try to crack the market – HP, Microsoft, Netgear, Linksys, D-Link have all had a go, but media streamers appear to be firmly entrenched in a niche and threaten to be overtaken by network-enabled TVs.
I’ve tried and shelved a whole bunch of these devices over the past few years – from a HTPC running Windows Media Centre next to the TV, various Media Centre Extenders, a Netgear Entertainer EVA7000 but have now settled on an Xbox 360 Elite to do my streaming in the lounge. It’s working well and any device that wants to replace it is going to have to work really hard!
That said, there are some impressive devices around. Netgear continue to innovate with their Digital Entertainer line, and thousands of Popcorn Hours have found their way into homes around the world. Joining them this week is the Xtreamer Media Player and Streamer – a device that has been available in Europe for some time, and has recently been launched in the UK, courtesy of Tranquil PC who are an official distributor.
Let’s take a look at what it can do.
What’s In the Box?
The Xtreamer is attractively packaged in a full colour box holding the main unit as well as a separate box which contains the free Wi-Fi antenna that is currently bundled with the product.
In the box, you’ll find:
- Xtreamer Media Player
- 110-240v 2 Pin Power Adaptor (EU/US)
- UK Power Adaptor
- Composite Video/Audio cables
- Remote Control
- USB Cable
- Quickstart Guide
Whilst the Xtreamer can be connected with an HDMI cable, this needs to be purchased separately. The reasonable £99 price also means you miss out on an internal hard drive and digital audio cable, both of which also must be purchased separately. If you wish to connect the device at the highest quality, make sure you’re cabled up before the Xtreamer arrives.
At just 180mm (width) x 32mm (depth) x 82mm (height), the Xtreamer is compact and looks great dressed up in a high-gloss piano black finish. When horizontally positioned on its stand (which, incidentally is a bit fiddly to fit) it looks distinctly like a Netgear router to me (maybe it comes out of the same factory, who knows) but is small enough to tuck well out of the way in your TV cabinet without too much trouble.
Around the Back
Rear connections are in abundance, with three USB ports (two standard, 1 mini sized), analogue audio (bleugh), composite video (ouch), optical audio, HDMI (yay!), 10/100 Ethernet socket and your standard 12v power connector all supplied. I guess there must be people out there who want to connect the Xtreamer up via composite video so it needs to be in there, but why I really don’t know.
As mentioned, the Xtreamer is currently bundled with a free Wi-Fi antenna to support an 802.11n high-speed wireless connection. Whilst 802.11n is fast, I’d personally recommend taking advantage of the Xtreamer’s wired network connection for the best streaming performance from a networked PC or home server. I use a Powerline Ethernet connection currently, and it works really well.
Supported File Formats
When it comes to comparing digital media receivers, it generally boils down to file format support. The latest tranche of streamers all now seem to support xvid, divx and .mkv (the torrentor’s current format du choix for high definition content) out of the box as well as .iso for ripped DVDs. The Xtreamer doesn’t miss out with a massive range of file formats supported – whatever you throw at it, the Xtreamer will pretty much gobble it up and stream it out.
|Online Content||YouTube, Picasa, Yahoo Video, CNN, NBC Today, CBS Face the Nation,Live365 Radio, iPodcast, Radiobox, ABC News, BBC Podcast, CNN News , Indiefeed, Jamendo
Yahoo! Weather, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Xchange, MSNBC News
A rich variety of online content is available out of the box, including content from YouTube, Picasa, CNN, NBC, Yahoo, the BBC, CBS and others.
Fitting a Hard Drive
If you want to use the Xtreamer as a storage device, you’ll need to purchase and fit your own 2.5” hard drive. Fortunately, this is pretty easy. I selected a Western Digital Scorpio (UK Link) hard drive for the job (various sizes are available). Make sure you purchase the SATA version of the drive, rather than an older IDE drive.
Simply remove the top of the Xtreamer unit, which you’ll find acts as a caddy for the hard drive. Two screws are supplied to secure the drive in the caddy, which then slides back and guide the hard drive into the Xtreamer’s SATA port. Nice and simple.
Connecting the Xtreamer
Hooking up the Xtreamer is similarly easy – although the power adaptor supplied for the UK is a nightmare. Rather than supply a standard UK adaptor, the product is supplied with a pin EU/US adaptor, with a UK convertor. That means you have to plug the convertor to the non-UK adaptor which equals a decidedly ungraceful solution:
Anyway, connect up your power, network and HDMI cable, and you’re ready to rock.
Press the power button on the remote and the device starts up. The first thing you’ll notice is a pretty annoying buzzing sound from the fan that’s seated at the bottom of the Xtreamer. It’s high pitched enough to sound exactly like a fly. Tip the unit on its side and the fan really starts going for it – fan speed varies depending on heat, but it’s not a particularly nice sound at any speed, and if the unit gets warm, you’re in for a racket.
The great news is you can turn the fan off in the MISC system settings, which comes as a blessed relief, but may toast the unit. Probably worth it.
Using the Xtreamer
Generally, the most disappointing thing I’ve found on most digital media receivers is the user interface. For some reason, they are generally badly designed, slow to respond and confusing in operation. The good news is, the Xtreamer is actually pretty good.
Response to the remote is quite snappy and you can navigate your way around the menus efficiently.
The black and red colour palette is a bit harsh on the eye for my liking, however.
The Xtreamer did a great job of finding the UPnP devices on my network, including two different home servers, as well as the wirelessly attached netbook I’m writing this review on.
However, the Xtreamer’s UPnP menu setting failed to play any of my media (I think due to a security issue) from any device, popping up an “Invalid File Error”. To get anything to play, I had to manually find the device using the Xtreamer’s Network menu option, type in my user name and password using the on screen keyboard, and from there all was well. Knock a couple of points off for a bit of inconvenience, though – uPnP should work right out of the box, without authorisation. That’s the point of it!
Over the past few weeks, Xtreamer have released a couple of firmware updates, so I’m certain they’re still ironing out a few bugs in the product. The problem I experienced above has been noted in the official forums. A new firmware release (v1.03) is planned shortly so if you’re an early adopter, expect a few bumps along the way until the quality bar is met consistently throughout the product.
As you can see from the shots above, audio plays with track listings, album art and detailed track information all displayed, which looks great. Accessing your home server via UPnP allows you to browse your music using a wide range of navigation categories (and if you’re running a home server with TwonkyMedia Server or Asset UPnP there’s even more to choose from) whereas in Network mode, you’ll be browsing using the home server’s folder structure, which if you have a tidy home server, isn’t too much trouble.
Scrolling through the folder list is extremely fast and smooth – far better than I’ve seen on other devices and far, far better than I was expecting from the Xtreamer. When you select a track to play, you’ll hear it almost instantaneously (this is over a wired network, remember). In network mode, tracks appear by file name rather than using the MP3 tag which is a little cumbersome, but no show stopper.
The remote control gives full control over the audio, including advancing to the next track, replaying the previous track, fast forward up to 32x speed (including audio output up to 2x), shuffle, repeat, as well as a volume control and mute.
Photo slideshows are similarly impressive, playing your selection of images effortlessly with your choice of audio in the background, and switching between images with a range of cool transitions. As you browse through your photo files, a thumbnail is displayed along with EXIF tag information. This can also been shown on screen during the slideshow simply by pressing the Info button.
As with Audio, the remote provides a series of features to control the slideshow including a Shuffle command, and the ability to advance the slideshow or go back to a previous photo.
Certainly, the Xtreamer gives a higher quality user experience than it’s £99 price tag suggests.
Video too was strong – I fired a range of file formats at the Xtreamer, including VOB, IFO, MPG, XVID and MKV which I’d acquired from a variety of sources (strictly for testing purposes, you understand!) and they all played flawlessly.
Switching between videos was also really quick, with little buffering required before playback. Videos can be fast forwarded from 1.1x to 32x and having had a lot of problems in the past with DMRs crashing badly when trying to fast forward video, I was impressed to see the Xtreamer handle this easily. Subtitling is also very well catered for, with support for SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA and IDX files.
So, top marks for media viewing – the Xtreamer handled my content perfectly, which is a first for me, and means that this little box is definitely a keeper!
The Xtreamer comes with a host of links to online content, courtesy of providers including YouTube, MSN, BBC, CBS and others. All available content appears in the Xtreamer’s Internet main menu option, with content arranged by category (News, Movie Trailers, Music & Dance, Photo, Technology & Gadgets, Science etc) along with a standalone category for YouTube.
YouTube content can be navigated by a variety of options including ratings, videos recently added, favourites, most viewed as well as a free text search which is populated by a large on screen keyboard. The keyboard works well, but the Xtreamer’s remote would benefit from alphanumeric keys which would make typing more efficient.
As you would imagine, standard YouTube content on any kind of large screen looks pretty awful, HD content is more watchable.
News content is available from 15 different news providers from around the world, including the BBC, CNN, FOX, Sky, ITN, MSNBC, Reuters, ZDF and others. I’m guessing this content is localised by territory, so expect to see a different selection in the US. That said, whilst the content does indeed come from those outlets, it’s a mish-mash of old clips, interviews and features rather than the up to the minute headlines you may expect.
Movie Trailers and Reviews are a useful feature, with content pulled from a variety of sources including Apple, Beyond the Trailer and others.
You’ll find a whole host of content available, which if you’re into and have time to dig through it, you’ll love and otherwise, well, you’ll leave well alone. If you could plug Hulu, BBC iPlayer etc in there it’d be essential viewing – right now, it isn’t.
So, on balance, what the view on the Xtreamer? I haven’t tried out the Popcorn Hour yet, but certainly, the Xtreamer is easily the best digital media receiver I’ve used when it comes to speed of navigation and file format support. It really will eat up all common file formats you throw at it, and for just £99, it’s a complete steal. Music, Video and Photo playback is fabulous, and if you’re a media junkie with a lot of content stored on your home server, the Xtreamer is a perfect playback partner.
That said, elements of the product are still a little rough around the edges – the fan really must be switched off for the product to be usable, and the UK adaptor add-on isn’t a great solution. More fundamentally, there’s still work to do on uPnP access (as in “making it work”), areas of the user interface still need a bit of polish. Firmware updates are being released regularly (the next one is planned for next week) providing bug fixes and new features, and with rumours of an SDK being released for open feature development, there’s a stack of potential in the Xtreamer.
If you can live with a couple of quirks, the Xtreamer offers strong features, fantastic file format support and quick performance at a great price.