There is an emerging category of consumer electronics designed to play your ever-expanding digital media collection without you sitting in front of your computer. Some have their own storage, like the majority of MP3 players, but not the Hauppauge MediaMVP. As long as you have an Ethernet network in your house (and it’s surprising just how many people do), you can plug in the unit and start enjoying all those digital camera pictures, MP3 tunes and video files through your TV and stereo.
That’s how the marketing blurb goes, anyway. The unit itself is an inconspicuous box about the size of the palm of your hand, and runs Linux. It has three connectors on the back: RJ45 for your network connection, SCART to plug into your TV, and a power connector. It comes with a remote control and a SCART lead that includes break-out wires for RCA leads to connect to your stereo. Since it doesn’t need a powerful processor, nor a hard disk or internal power supply, it doesn’t have any fans, so it’s consequently silent.
Installation is easy. It involves plugging the unit in, and then installing a bit of software on a PC (running Windows 2000 or XP) that then serves media files to the MediaMVP on demand. The harder job is running an Ethernet cable to your TV, but for the purposes of this review we cheated and moved the TV to the network point.
The Hauppauge MediaMVP is just about the cheapest route into this kind of technology. Normal operation requires a TV because there’s no LCD screen; you can browse the music and videos on the ‘host’ PC. It doesn’t have optical audio output, although we wouldn’t expect that at this price point.
Currently, there is no WiFi version either. When Hauppauge does release a WiFi version, it’s likely that it’ll only be any good with 802.11g due to the amount of data that needs to be transferred across the network for video. However, the unit is easy to install and operate, and it serves its purpose well.
Hauppauge is traditionally associated with the video market, and this product would best complement a hard-disk recording TV card like the WinTV PVR which we reviewed some time ago. We were disappointed to find that the support for different video formats is quite limited, though. The unit supports MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, but not AVI in any form, nor Quicktime.
This is disappointing because DIVX files and the majority of movies saved directly from digital video cameras will not be compatible. Hauppauge does have DIVX support in beta (freely available to the brave), but there’s no mention of any other AVI formats.
If you’re primarily interested in listening to your MP3 collection using the MediaMVP, then you don’t technically need to plug it into a TV. There’s a remote access utility available for download from the Hauppauge site, which mirrors the user interface normally seen on the TV. This means that you can ‘push’ media to the device from the PC, which is a neat feature. Ideally, though, this device should be bought with the intention of connecting it to a TV, since that is certainly the easiest mode of operation.
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