The Netgear MP101 is a media streamer and decoder with both wired and wireless Ethernet connections, a remote control, and an LCD display. In other words, it’s a home MP3 player with network connections built in.
There are lots of MP3 players on the market, but if you’ve been looking for something to leave plugged into your hi-fi, you’ve probably had to resort to getting some decent speakers for your PC instead.
Recently though, a number of media players have appeared on the market that draw media files from a networked PC on demand. These are usually general-purpose units for playing both video and audio files, and need to be connected to a TV in order to select files, which can be annoying if only music is wanted.
But the Netgear MP101 is a bit different. One of its strengths is that it’s not necessary to plug it into a TV to select media files, because it features a capable and legible 4-line LCD display. This, combined with its wireless capabilities, makes it perfect for playing music in the rooms where it’s wanted, rather than just the rooms where there is a PC or TV.
The MP101 is solidly built and quite stylish. It features one set of RCA outputs for connecting to a stereo, which covers the normal means of connecting audio equipment, although we’d have liked to see an optical output as well. It also features a mini-jack so it can be connected directly to powered speakers or headphones. The only other connector on the rear is for an Ethernet patch cable, although the MP101 comes into its own when run wirelessly.
The wireless connection is quite easy to set up, although if you’ve got WEP encryption enabled or have limited connections to a list of MAC addresses on your router, you’ll need to be prepared to set this up via the remote control, which can be a bit fiddly.
We tested the MP101 on an 802.11b network at the limits of the wireless range, and it performed well, suffering few streaming problems. The problems we did have could have been avoided by a signal strength indicator, which we feel is a bit of a shortfall, but a laptop with WiFi could easily be used to find the good signal areas in a building before installation.
The MP101 requires a media server program to be installed on a PC (unfortunately, there is no Mac version available). This indexes all the available music on that PC and makes it available via the MP101. The MP101 then downloads tracks across the network when requested.
Media files are indexed by genre, artist, album, and track name. Playlists are also supported, although there is no way of browsing a filesystem. This can be a problem if the ID3 tags containing the information about the artist, etc. are incomplete. Our workaround was to create a playlist for each album or each folder.
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