After the debacle that was ViewSonic's VMP30, we're cautious about the company's new VMP74 Full HD Network Media Player. Like the VMP30 it promises to be one of the better media players around, but anyone who read the review of the older model will know it was impressive on paper yet failed spectacularly in practice. Let's see if the VMP74 (known as the VMP75 in the US) can restore our faith.
Its spec-sheet is certainly enough to stir plenty of anticipation. Along with support for less common video file formats such as MKV and MOV, it offers eSATA connectivity, wired networking, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Samba, and even internet browsing with mouse and keyboard support.
Included in the neatly packaged box is a colour quick-start and connectivity guide, a plain 1.5m HDMI cable, 3.5mm to composite video and audio cable, a slightly large power adapter and full-size remote with batteries. This is a decent bundle as it includes everything you really need to get started.
Unlike its predecessor's sweet combination of brushed metal and soft-touch plastic, the VMP74 is a predominantly piano-black plastic affair, meaning fingerprints, dust and scratches accumulate easily. It's a fairly anonymous and simple piece of design, but that's really what you want and the compact dimensions (132 x 101 x 28mm) and solid build quality are very pleasing. Moreover, as there are no moving parts, the VMP74 is totally silent and only gets slightly warm in operation.
All the connections and the power button can be found on the rear I/O panel. Here you'll encounter a small, tactile green power button and a fairly generous range of audio, video and data connections. HDMI 1.3 is joined by a 3.5mm AV output for composite video and audio, which gives a distinct advantage in that it can also function as a headphone jack, and there's an optical digital audio port thrown in for good measure. We would have liked to have seen high definition component video-out for those with older televisions, but the VMP47's AV connectivity is still vastly superior to VMP30's.
Separate USB and USB/eSATA ports provide ample data connectivity, though their close proximity means a large device will block the other port. ViewSonic isn't alone in offering eSATA, as the Asus O!Play Air HDP-R3 also features it, and it's a good addition when dealing with large files provided you have compatible storage. Unlike the HDP-R3 ViewSonic's flagship unit doesn't offer a memory card reader, but you can always hook one up over USB.
Despite its titled emphasis on networking, the VMP74 doesn't offer Wi-Fi either, instead relying on an Ethernet port. However, you would have trouble streaming Full HD video files over Wi-Fi anyway, and wireless functionality can be added through a separate USB dongle if you want it, with a list of compatible dongles available from ViewSonic.