The interface is quick, intuitive and very nicely presented. The Home page, to which you can return from any other page by clicking the house icon, contains large category icons for Music, Photos, Videos and a File Browser. Within each of the aforementioned categories are extensive cataloguing options – music, for example, can be arranged according to Album, Artist, Recent, Song or alphabetical letter, and you can choose to have files displayed as text titles or with album art. The software is also quite good at aggregating content into the library from different physical locations.
However, the one area where the web-interface starts to fail is when it comes to actually playing back media, especially video. The problem is that the Media Hub’s vaunted media interface is no more than that: an interface. It can’t actually play back media itself and instead relies on players already installed on your computer.
Hence it uses Windows Media Player for most formats and Apple QuickTime for .MOVs. Aside from crashing a few times (which didn’t affect other browser windows), this worked well enough, but begs the question: why not just use the relevant programs in the first place? Or better yet, get a free media player that will play every format (including MKV) like Media Player Classic or VLC.
Essentially, there is no real reason for the Linksys’ media interface to exist, at least not for anyone who remotely knows what they’re doing. When you get right down to it, most NAS boxes in this price range combined with free software can provide exactly the same functionality. As to Linksys’ claim of being able to access your media from anywhere around the world, after a year this requires a paid subscription where rival services offer similar access for free. Likewise DLNA 1.5 for streaming to UPnP devices (such as the Xbox 360) and an iTunes server are features found on most rivals.
When push comes to shove, it’s difficult to recommend Linksys’ Media Hub NMH405. Its media interface and colour screen do have their uses but are largely superfluous, while you can get more hardware for less elsewhere. Netgear’s excellent ReadyNAS Duo, for example, offers hot-swapping, tool-less drive installation, more RAID options, a third USB port (to which you can hook up a £10 memory card reader), a more durable full-metal chassis and BitTorrent support, all for £30 less.
Of course there’s always Linksys’ 300-series to be considered, where the removal of the screen and card reader bring the price down to £210. Even so, £20 for the ReadyNAS’ advantages doesn’t seem like too much to spend, though the Media Hub 300s are still worth considering if you aren’t too demanding and want a less industrial-looking, slightly more compact NAS device.
Stylish, compact and quiet, the Cisco Linksys Media Hub NMH405 is nonetheless outclassed in build quality and features by rival products. Nor is it redeemed by its web-based interface or colour LCD screen, both of which end up being somewhat superfluous.
Score in detail