The Eminent EM7080 doesn't have the flashy UI of the Apple TV or Boxee Box, but for power users it has some seriously attractive advanced features. There's bit-torrent and newsgroups download support, enabling downloads directly from the box, and streaming over Samba and DLNA - all with a LAN or Wi-Fi connection (using the optional adapter).
DVDs and Blu-rays can be played as full ISO rips - you'll need a hefty amount of storage for the latter but this capability shows this box is capable of shifting very high bit-rate content. The dual USB and eSATA ports offer plenty of scope for plugging-in several terabytes of storage into the EM7080. It's a pity there's no memory card reader, as the range of image transition options on offer makes this a decent way to show off your latest photos - as niche and under-appreciated a hobby as that may be.
For the most elegant storage solution though, you'll want to plug a 3.5-inch hard drive into the case. The model we looked at ships without a drive and that's the version currently available from the main UK retailer Amazon.co.uk. It just shows that this is a device made with tech-heads in mind, as its form factor is begging for something it's missing from the off. The EM7080 officially supports internal drives of up to 2TB.
Installing a hard drive is relatively simple, requiring the removal of four small screws at the bottom of the box, revealing the box's circuit board and the expanse of space designed to house your hard drive. The drive is then secured with a couple of extra screws - the whole process shouldn't take more than five or ten minutes. The EM7080 supports NTFS, FAT and EXT file systems so re-formatting of drives shouldn't be necessary.
Data from different sources isn't ever merged, leaving you to explore through the untouched file systems of each of your attached storage mediums. It may be less sophisticated than a more centralised system, seen in the Boxee Box, but should put a smile on the faces of those who can't stand the pushy, restrictive approach of software packages like iTunes, or devices that connect to computers with proprietary software rather than a mass storage mode.
The Eminent EM7080's closest rivals are the AC Ryan PlayOn!HD2 and Western Digital Live Hub. Both offer snazzier interfaces and the Western Digital offers a built-in 1TB hard drive for around Â£35 more at retail. However, without any storage on-board, it also faces stiff competition from the much-cheaper Western Digital TV Live and Asus O!Play media players - unless the extra codec capabilities of the Eminent are must-haves.
The video and audio support offered by the Eminent EM7080 is beyond reproach, but the software is glitchy, the web services section only half-finished and the UI is starting to look behind-the-times compared to alternatives from A.C. Ryan, Western Digital and Popcorn Hour.