As PCs, DVD players, and home-theater kits did before them, digital media receivers are morphing from high-priced, nerdy curiosities into affordable, mass-market devices. Hauppauge's first such product, the MediaMVP, follows this consumer-friendly trend, delivering a full array of features and solid performance for a list price of just $99.
The silver, wedge-shaped MediaMVP is small, just 6.5 by 5.5 by 1.5 inches. Housed in lightweight plastic and having neither a display nor controls on its front panel, the machine looks fairly pedestrian, but the solid midsize remote inspires a bit more confidence.
The rear panel includes one pair of stereo RCA analog line outputs but no digital out. Composite and higher-quality S-Video outputs deliver the video signal to the TV in either the NTSC or PAL format. Furthermore, the built-in aspect-ratio control lets you select between the standard 4:3 and wide-screen 16:9 display modes. Unfortunately, the network connection is via Ethernet only.
The MediaMVP is one of the only media receivers we've set up and used with barely a glance at the manual. In about 10 minutes, we connected the unit to our TV, A/V receiver, and Ethernet router; installed the server software on our PC; and built a library of audio, photo, and video files with the application's intuitive Search Folder function.
Some pricier do-it-all devices offer more functionality than the MediaMVP. For example, the $249 Prismiq MediaPlayer can handle a vast number of file formats, browse the Web, and play Internet radio. Other competitors can download CD cover art. But even without these capabilities, the MediaMVP packs an impressive punch. It covers the essential bases and shares many of the MediaPlayer's key points. The Hauppauge receiver supports MP3 audio; M3U, PLS, B4S, and ASX playlists; JPEG and GIF images; and video in MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. Moreover, Hauppauge might add codecs to that list and update the features via firmware upgrades.
The MediaMVP's TV-based user interface is among the simplest we've seen. Its main screen has four straightforward options: Video, Pictures, Music, and Settings. Folders and files are easily navigable via the remote. You can't sort MP3 tracks by ID3 tag information such as genre, but that's not much of a problem if you've organized your music into folders or playlists on your PC. One cool bonus is the MediaMVP's ability to play an MP3 song while streaming a photo slide show.
We were using prerelease software, but the MediaMVP's Linux-based system still performed well. The MP3 version of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" sounded crisp and clear. Image files displayed quickly and looked good. While generally smooth, video playback froze on two occasions: when we were fast-forwarding an MPEG-2 movie and when we followed several quick button-presses with Pause. Rebooting the PC software remedied the stalls. Those hiccups notwithstanding, the MediaMVP's TV-based navigation and broad feature set are a steal at $99.