Simple, competitively priced media streamer and enclosure
Emprex's ME1 is a media streamer and hard drive enclosure that is capable of handling most files and resolutions thrown at it. It doesn't have any HDMI outputs (and can't handle 1080p content) and the interface needs a little refining, but otherwise it provides good value.
- Good up-scaling, simple network streaming, expandable with USB storage or new internal drive
- No HDMI, slightly confusing and laggy interface
For a casual user who wants to stream digital video, photo and music files as well as watch stored high-definition content, the ME1 works well. If you can handle the lack of digital video connections and the speed of the interface, the ME1 is a good option.
The box itself contains plenty of cables to connect the ME1 to your computer or television. The enclosure uses a single 3.5mm socket for A/V out, and included adapters convert that into composite or component RCA plugs. You'll need your own cables to actually connect to a TV as they're not supplied. There's no HDMI connector, which would have been useful for providing a digital connection to newer televisions.
The easiest method of filling the device's storage space with video files is with a direct connection to a PC, which is facilitated by a USB 2.0 port. An additional USB port is available, which allows the ME1 to connect and access a card reader or external storage device.
The other main use of the ME1 is as a direct streaming device, using a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port to transfer data from a computer that is directly attached or accessible over a network. We found the streaming more than adequate for 720p and 1080i high-definition video, with no evident stuttering or buffering. However, there are no slick menus — a simple file browser that is functional enough for everyday use allows navigation through shared folders.
The unit's slimline remote is equally simple. As well as being easy to use and clearly labelled, it can be clipped into the base of the enclosure and hidden away — great if you're moving the streamer around regularly. It's impossible to control anything without the remote, so if it's lost you'll need to get another.
Once the ME1 is connected to the TV — we used the component adapter which allows the unit to display resolutions of up to 1080i and connected it to a Grundig Xentia 40 — the device will automatically attempt to get a network address and search for shared media. A simple user interface is displayed with the option to select video, music or photo browsing.
The option of monitoring the device's A/V input (a composite connector able to display a maximum resolution of 480i) is also available. While this might seem pointless, it does have the ability to record — so if you don't have a digital video recorder for storing TV, the ME1 offers a workaround solution.
The menus are easy to navigate, but suffer from a long load time between screens. Even when using the device to increase volume during video playback there was a noticeable delay between hitting a button on the remote and the setting being altered.
When actually watching video, the device performed admirably. Almost all file types are supported by the unit, although there is a size limitation of four gigabytes per file. It supports up-scaling of lower resolutions to 720p and 1080i over component, and it executes this well. Up-scaled videos look cleaner and less pixelated than their native-resolution counterparts.
One other key selling point of the ME1 is its on-board decoding capability for high-definition content. A wide variety of file types like DivX HD and AVI are supported, which means you can copy almost any downloaded or compressed high-definition video to the ME1 and have it play natively. Streaming from a PC, too, is also only restricted by what codecs are installed on the PC. This means that if you have an uncommon file type, streaming to the ME1 is guaranteed to succeed once the necessary codec is found - great for future-proofing.
However, the main criticism of the Emprex ME1's video playback is that it's slightly blurry when up-scaling. This is only really a problem when viewing the image closely and isn't of real concern to a casual viewer.
Visually, the ME1 is unobtrusive, with a matt black fascia accented by shiny silver buttons. It's not the most stylish media streamer we've seen — the Logitech Squeezebox sets the bar high for that — but it certainly fits in with any silver or black home entertainment components. The unit is quite solidly put together and the base is removable for horizontal positioning.
Pricing for the ME1 is not yet confirmed, with the unit becoming available at the start of July. With a 250GB hard drive installed the unit should cost around $250, which plants it squarely in the budget media streamer market. It's nothing ground-breaking, but performs well as a media centre and streamer for a casual user.
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