When we arranged a review of the HDX 1000 we had mixed feelings of what to expect. On paper this device seems like the media jukebox to end all media jukeboxes, such is the massive array of features on offer and promise of untold media-management glory to those lucky enough to get their hands on one. Too many times we’ve been let down by flamboyant press releases and overblown claims, though, so we approached this particular review with some trepidation.
We’ll attempt to summarise the device by saying that the HDX 1000 is a typical media streamer capable of playing back files stored in your media library on a TV, but with a wide range of additional features and online content available.
It is presented in the form of a sleek black box that offers a range of outputs including HDMI 1.3a, component, composite and coaxial and optical digital audio. You’ll also find twin USB ports on the back for attaching external storage and the enclosure can house either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA hard drives for internal storage.
Just about all of the relevant boxes are ticked so far then, but one rather glaring omission is the lack of built-in wireless. While the HDX is compatible with a rather specific wi-fi dongle (the TP-Link TL-WN821N, which costs £18.34 and was kindly loaned to us by www.rlsupplies.co.uk) it’s rather frustrating to have to pick this up separately when you consider the abundance of rivals that supply wireless as standard.
Setting the HDX 1000 up on a network is thankfully quite an easy task. When you fire it up for the first time it takes up to a minute to initialise the hardware and present you with the main interface, though from this point on, ‘soft boots’ (i.e. turning the device on and off via the remote) are instantaneous. A stripped down but quite concise series of menus allows you to configure network support by selecting the usual SSID and network profile, entering a passcode where relevant. From here you have a choice of sharing media through Windows Media Player’s library or through Windows’ shared folder support.
This is a fair compromise and, once set up correctly, networked drives are easily accessible through the main menu, which offers access to video, music, photos or a file browser.
The strengths of the HDX 1000 are clearly oriented towards video playback, and this is in fact extremely good. File support is up there with the best on the market, and you’ll find flawless playback of formats such as MKV, H.264, MP4 and MOV along with more traditional AVI, DivX and Xvid.
We’ll kick off with its performance over a wireless connection and, despite hearing reports of a rather poor showing here, we were fairly impressed. Standard definition and in most cases HD files up to 720p played back fine once started, though it’s worth noting that there was often a rather frustrating pause when attempting to fast forward or back through a file while it re-established its position over a network.
In addition, it’s clear that 720p is the extent of the device’s capabilities over wireless as there was the occasional glitch in playback that caused stuttering, but it’s fair to say that most content is generally quite watchable in this mode.
Switching to a wired network shored this up somewhat and things were a fair bit smoother, including watchable playback of 1080p files. Sadly, the lag still reared its head when a file was paused or searched and, while few devices have nailed this in the current market, the HDX isn’t a patch on the pre-processing system used by alternatives such as the D-Link DSM-330.
Video control is excellent, though, with detailed information available on the current playing file, aspect ratio control, subtitle and audio track support and quick search available using the numeric keypad on the remote.
A few minor issues cost the HDX 1000 a few points, such as the fact that video files cannot be resumed and there’s little control over view modes for browsing large collections, though most of these sorts of issues are easily fixable via firmware updates, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the device’s thriving community latches onto this fairly soon.
The excellent degree of control does not carry through to music and photos, however, and while many devices tend to shirk these areas, the HDX almost seems to have forgotten them altogether. Audio tracks are selectable individually from the main interface but there’s no playlist control and little in terms of playing back and enjoying an album or three of tracks. Photos can be viewed as slideshows using basic transition and timing selection, but again this is quite limited and if either of these areas is important to you, the HDX is unlikely to offer enough.
The other main area where the device does appeal is online access, since there’s a ton of content available here to browse and stream live to your TV. The most important of these is YouTube, which is easily browsable and watchable through a television and, while it performs a fair bit better over a wired network, the inevitable pauses for buffering and content loading are acceptable in the current climate.
In addition to the world’s most popular online video channel there’s far more content available through the built-in media portal, including news, podcasts, photo albums, weather and all manner of online video, audio, Internet radio and visual content.
Some of this is quite glitchy and isn’t always available, but we were pleased by the overall performance here and it’s fair to say that the HDX 1000 is the most capable media streamer we’ve seen yet in terms of offering access to online content. Additions to the built-in portal include direct torrent downloads and online communities that can all be accessed and browsed with the right plug-ins, and applications installed onto an internal drive.
The HDX 1000 is seen by some as an ‘advanced’ media jukebox, in that many of the features and accessibility options are rather awkward to access if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you install the NMT Apps to access some of the additional features, for example, you can’t copy files directly to the internal hard drive from a PC, and must do so instead via an FTP server or one of the handful of workarounds that have been provided by developers and the open source community.
This is the sort of thing that’s likely to put beginners off, but in truth the device works perfectly well as a media streamer in its own right and only if you attempt to unlock the full potential of the HDX (and aren’t particularly comfortable with the kind of advanced knowledge that’s required to do so) will you run into difficulty.
With this in mind it’s hard to criticise a device that offers excellent video support, impressive performance and access to such a wide range of online content. The relatively high price and lack of attention to photo and music playback will put off the casual user, however, and those who might consider themselves unwilling or unable to dive into some of the more advanced features may be better off opting for a more straightforward alternative.
Company: NMT Players
Contact: 0870 402 9909