Sweex’s latest gadget cleverly plugs into a couple of expanding trends in the PC marketplace. First there’s the growth in hard disk recorders, spearheaded by Sky+ boxes, but with plenty of others hanging onto their coat tails. Second, it also takes influence from network media devices that plug directly into a screen and stream media content, without the need for any optical disc.
In the case of the Portable Media Center, it’s quite simply a 40GB external hard drive housed in a chassis that allows direct connections to your TV or monitor through composite or component outputs (you can simply buy a naked version of the chassis too, to put your own drive in).
Then, using the on-board controls or the supplied remote, you treat it like a portable media box, allowing any video, music or image contained upon it to be displayed or played. A simple idea and, thanks to Sweex, an affordable one too. A version of the device with a smaller capacity is available too, which does further damage to the asking price.
All of this, of course, is very well. Yet in going about its business, the device does display a few significant flaws that muddy the waters somewhat.
The main one is, sadly, in the playback of the media itself. Here the Sweex device does a half-cooked job, at times struggling to play files completely, at others making a hash of correctly framing the output. We found HD output a non-starter too, in spite of promised output up to 1080i.
Given the maze of differing codecs out there, we were expecting a few files to give us trouble, but the Portable Media Player does boast support for a wide range of formats and you could reasonably expect it to cope a lot better than it does.
Rounding off the disappointment was the inclusion of one of the most uncomfortable remote controls we’ve used. Looking and feeling cheap, it’s obviously not the main problem here, but it’s still something crying out to be improved.
In principle there’s a market for a device such as the Sweex Media Player and we love the idea of taking a bulk of media storage and plugging it, for example, directly into our television. And when this works, it’s not too bad.
But the reality here is that while the thinking is sound, the execution is poor. And whilst it might be worth keeping an eye out to see if Sweex can improve this product next time round – because, realistically, there’s not a huge amount that actually needs to be changed – in its current state it should be treated as a no-go.