Midway through last month Jonathan revealed his admiration for Netgear's Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000 but there's more than one way to skin a cat (despite it being a particularly weird expression)...
Storage and networking guru Freecom is the latest to step up to the plate with its revamped 'Network MediaPlayer-350' range which looks set to cause rivals many sleepless nights.
Like the EVA8000 the Network MediaPlayer range is designed to transfer films, photos and music from a PC, notebook or even directly from the Internet to a TV or stereo system without a pile of unsightly cables. Of course we're talking wireless here (though a wired Ethernet connection is also available) and mountains of versatility.
For a start, the entire product range supports the playback of High Definition content along with AVI – in its DivX and Xvid variants – WMV, MP4, Mpeg1/2/4, DAT and VOB. Backing up this vast array are the venerable MP3 and young and trendy Ogg Vorbis for audio, while Jpeg is the predictable image format of choice. In addition, Freecom promises firmware updates which will expand this even further. Video and audio output options are just as impressive too since while some may mourn the absence of an HDMI port, the range is outfitted with DVI capable of receiving a 1080p signal, plus component, S-Video and composite connections. As for audio: Stereo, Digital Coaxial and Optixal 5.1 surround do for them.
So far so very all inclusive, but it is only at this point that the range really begins to stretch its legs. While every model in the line comes with a USB2.0 port (so content can be assessed directly from external hard drives and memory keys) they also come with integrated 3.5in hard drive mounts. The entry level model, dubbed the 'Drive-In Kit' is left empty to cut down on cost and allow enthusiasts to supply their own while pre-installed 250GB, 400GB and 500GB HDDs flesh out the rest of the range.
Consequently there is no longer any need to keep a PC on when viewing media since it can be stored directly to the player itself. From there Freecom encourages users to take the player over to friends' houses to watch and swap content (legal, of course).
And since they measure a mere 185 x 150 x 57mm and weigh just 1Kg (with HDD) the players are certainly portable enough to be used in this way.
One more trick? Oh ok. All HDD equipped MediaPlayer boxes can also be utilised as Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. Clever indeed. Finally, they are Windows and Mac (OS X onwards) compatible, so where's the downside in all this... price?
Thankfully no, because with the Drive-in Kit starting from just £137.99, then increasing incrementally to £214.99 (250GB), £239.99 (400GB) and £259.99 (500GB) with a two year warranty as standard Freecom is certainly lifting the bar. As for availability, they're out now.
Impressive, very impressive indeed.