High-definition network media players are hitting the market thick and fast these days, and the prices reflect this, with some budget models now selling for under £20. The Storex Slimbox sits somewhere in the middle of the price range, offering a decent feature set (including optional Wi-Fi connectivity) for just under £70.
Connecting it up
As seems to be the way with these devices, the Slimbox is a small, fairly bland black box, but unusually it has its mechanical on-off switch located underneath, which foxed us for a short while. At the rear are the HDMI and composite video outputs, plus coaxial and optical S/P-DIF connectors. Only a composite video cable is supplied. There’s also a 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet port and two USB ports, one at the back and one at the side next to an SD/MMC card slot. The single green/red status light at the front is a bit too bright when on standby.
Completing the package is a tiny but impressively ergonomic remote control, with function buttons containing shortcuts for pretty well every menu command, plus some controls – such as file copy – that are unavailable from the on-screen menu.
What’s on the menu?
The main menu uses a side-scrolling interface that can be displayed at up to 1080p resolution at 50Hz, with large clear icons for each media type, plus icons for network sources, file browser and settings. Oddly, there’s a separate Flash video category, and also a mysterious ‘Text’ category – we couldn’t find any reference to this in the sparse manual, and it didn’t recognise any kind of text file we tried, so perhaps it’s a feature-in-waiting.
The menu works very smoothly with little lag in most cases, although there were noticeable delays when launching media over the network. Also, the playback controls and resizing options aren’t available for Flash videos for some unknown reason.
Switching between USB and SD/MMC storage is done via a button on the remote. We plugged in a hard disk and a USB Flash drive and also plugged it in to our network, and it grabbed an IP address via DHCP with no prompting. A separate 150Mbit/s 802.11n Wi-Fi dongle is available for £19 inc. VAT, although we found it also worked fine with the one we used, an £8 Tenda W311U model.
Thumbnails of photos can be displayed, as can album artwork for music tracks if available locally, but although there’s an option to see video previews in List mode, this didn’t work. It handles most non-DRM media types, including MKV H.264 video files, and it can even play back an ISO file of a DVD movie. We found some files wouldn’t play, such as Windows Media Center recordings (which were bizarrely shown with a QuickTime .mov extension) and the occasional Flash file, but overall it worked fairly well.
All network streaming is via UPnP – there’s no SMB browsing capability – and we found it worked as well as any other UPnP device we’ve seen, which perhaps isn’t saying much. But when we did find a willing source, the playback quality for 1080p material was excellent on our wired network, with no sign of dropped frames. Playback controls were easy to use. Browsing long lists of files was aided by the page up/page down control, but there’s no search feature or the ability to skip straight to favourites.
Three online services are listed in the Network section – internet radio, Picasa Web Albums and Flickr. The radio is simply a categorised listing of hundreds of standard streaming radio sites, but as usual we found a lot of them to be offline. A Favourites list appears on exiting this application, but we found no way to add stations to that list. The web photo services were not very impressive either: folders are just displayed as nameless icons, making navigation difficult. Only a single account for each service can be stored, using an on-screen keyboard to enter details.
- Excellent remote control.
- Dismal web services.
Considering the price, the Slimbox isn't a bad piece of kit, but in several areas it still appears to be a work in progress. It has impressively responsive menu controls, snappy performance and good quality playback in its favour, but its file navigation could be much improved - and the web services need a lot of polishing up.