Blu-Ray player manufacturers realized last year that the Internet Age consumers want more from their purchase than just dumb playback of optical disks. The latest players from the top tier companies such as LG and Samsung provide support for VOD (Netflix, YouTube etc.) and streaming of media from the local network, while also adding USB ports to support playback of local media.

The LG BD390 is almost universally accepted as the best Blu-Ray player / media streamer combo. It is noted for its inbuilt Wi-Fi capabilities, and provides support for NTFS drives connected to its USB port. It utilizes the Mediatek MT8520 SOC for the core media streamer functions. The host processor is an ARM1176 core running at 500 MHz. The SOC also integrates  Ethernet MAC, 2 USB 2.0 and 2 SATA II ports with a HDMI 1.3 transmitter. Hardware acceleration is supported for decode of high definition H264, VC1, MPEG2 and DivX videos. All varieties of Dolby and DTS soundtracks are also supported. With an inbuilt hardware cryptography engine (really, a pre-requisite for any chip trying to get into the Blu-Ray market), handling DRM content on Blu-Ray disks is the main duty of this player. The operational power consumption for this player is 21W.

Now that the specs are out of the way, let us take a look at how this player holds up to the rigors of usage as a media streamer. LG issues frequent firmware updates, and almost all VOD services have been enabled (except for Amazon Video on Demand). Since the MT8520 happens to be Mediatek's first SOC geared towards the HD market, software support for the product hasn't matured yet. As of December 2009, the unit is unable to play MP4 files even though the internal codec is supported. There are also reports of sluggish picture playback, possibly due to the fact that JPEG decode is not hardware accelerated. Many of these issues may be resolved by future firmware updates. Another Blu-Ray player based on the same SOC is the Oppo BDP-83. Media streaming capability wise, it fares similar to the LG BD-390, albeit at a higher price point. While the Oppo version sells for US $500, the LG player can be obtained for less than US $250 as of June 2010.

The MT8520 Rebadged as an Oppo OP8521G
[ Picture Courtesy : User oppohellas at ]

The Mediatek SOC offering in this arena seems promising and its full capabilities may surface down the road with future firmware upgrades. Mediatek's future roadmap in terms of updates to the MT8520 SOC itself also merits a watch. Broadcom has already released a few generations of SOCs targeted towards the Blu Ray market (most Samsung Blu-Ray players use Broadcom chips), but they haven't made their mark yet with capabilities necessary for the media streaming market.

HTPC Based Platforms Pure Internet Service Media Streamers
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  • Handi P - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Can you please add some comments about these new toys that you are going to line-up, about their ability to handle picture scaling modes for use with a projector and an anamorphic lens?
    Also can you keep an eye if there's any feature on it that can manipulate subtitles location in terms of the use of an anamorphic lens ?

    Handi P.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Handi, Thanks for your feedback. We will note the following points for future reviews:

    (1) Picture scaling modes test
    (2) Subtitle location / size modification ability
  • daskino - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I would still say that K.I.S.S: Technology was the first company to make media players.

    they launched a player back in 2002 based on the early Sigma processor the 8620
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    daskino, Thanks for the excellent information.

    I would have to say, I didn't pay much attention to KiSS's players since I always had the impression that they were just fancy DVD players :) Also, since their products are long discontinued, I couldn't dig up much information on their specs during market research.

    Thanks again for the eye opener. Just goes to show how much Sigma Designs has been dominating this market in the last 8 years or so!
  • The0ne - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Haven't read it yet but I'm thankful this has finally come out. Much appreciated!
  • The0ne - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    doh, only a small preview :(
  • DieterBSD - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    > 2. Video codecs (H264 / VC-1 / Real Media / VP8 etc.)

    Don't forget mpeg2.

    > 4. Multiple subtitle formats

    And closed captions (e.g. from recorded broadcast TV) support.
    If you can't make out a word when someone mumbles, how easy is
    it to rewind a few seconds, switch closed captions on, read
    the word, then switch closed captions off again? This could be
    a real pain if buried deep in a menu system. Is it possible to
    put the subtitle/captions in the letterbox black band area
    rather than blocking the picture?

    Quality of interlacing and de-interlacing. Since sources
    come in both interlaced and progressive formats, and AFAIK all
    displays are fundamentally one or the other, everyone has to deal
    with this. Poor quality interlacing/de-interlacing is really
    painful to watch. Add in pull-down and some of the bizzare
    things being broadcast and it is a mess.

    Ability to keep audio and video in sync.

    > What is the use of 1080p without HDMI?

    > Any media streamer worth its salt interfaces with the rest of
    > the AV components using HDMI.

    All the world is not HDMI. Ever hear of DVI or Displayport?
    IIRC component can do 1080. Many people have TVs or monitors
    that they are very happy with that don't have HDMI.
    How is the quality of the output on component, s-video, composite?
    I would love a device that can output s-video with more
    than the DV standard 720 pixels horizontally.

    Measured specs such as signal/noise, distortion, etc. would be nice.

    Quality of scaling, both up and down. I've read that many
    HDTVs have poor quality scalers.

    Ability to seek to a specific spot, skip forward/backward,
    freeze frame, step through frame by frame forward/backward,
    playing slow/fast at various speeds. I've read numerous
    complaints about boxes that do poorly at these things and
    are only good at normal playing.

    Ability to zoom in/out easily (mainly to deal 4:3 vs 16:9
    issues). Ability to compensate for source material that is
    squeezed or stretched. (Amazing how much they get wrong...)

    When you say "local media" do you mean "stored on a computer
    (or NAS) on the local network", or "stored on a device
    (e.g. an e-SATA/firewire/USB disk) connected directly to the media streamer"?
    Perhaps scrap the term "local" and using:

    attached (e-SATA, firewire, USB, ...)
    internal (inside the box: hard drive, CD/DVD drive, ...)

    How well do these streamers deal with the variety of
    computers, protocols, filesystems, found on LANs? (FreeBSD,
    OS-X, Plan-9, Linux, ...)

    Network: wired 100 Mbps Ethernet is more than fast enough for
    a single stream of compressed 1080 or less. If you have a
    lot of stuff happening on your network you'll want a gigabit
    switch and probably gigabit ports on the computers. The
    wireless stuff is problematic, I'd advise against it. A cat6
    cable is dirt cheap and far more reliable, As far as I'm
    concerned, wireless built into a video streamer is a *negative*
    feature. Runs up the cost just to pollute the airways.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    DieterBSD, Thanks for your extensive comment.

    We will keep your points in mind. Ability to keep A/V sync is a really important feature which many streamers fail at.

    While I agree with almost all of your points, I beg to differ with respect to HDMI. DVI and DisplayPort are not aimed at the multimedia market. DVI is unable to carry audio signals, while DisplayPort connectors are not present on TVs / AV receivers which are common parts of a home theater system. Like it or not, home theater enthusiasts seem to be stuck with the HDMI standard rather than the royalty free DisplayPort :|
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    "the main advantage viz a viz the freedom to tinker around"

    "Viz." is an abreviation for the latin videlicet. It means "that is to say". The French expression meaning "relative to" is "vis à vis".
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Thanks for bringing this to my notice :)

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