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Eminent hdMEDIA RT EM7080 Review

Pros

  • Bundled with all cables
  • Decent remote
  • Strong codec support

Cons

  • Ugly search
  • Primitive UI
  • Buggy software

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £124.99
  • Accepts 3.5in hard drives
  • Dual-USB ports, eSATA slot plus USB hub
  • Full 1080p playback inc. high bit-rate MKV
  • Component and HDMI HD inputs

Streaming services like the BBC iPlayer and LoveFilm’s movie offering are starting to be built into more TVs and lounge-bound boxes, but for the hardcore media consumer there’s still nothing better than a dedicated media player like the Eminent EM7080. Going head-to-head with similar solutions from A.C. Ryan, Western Digital and Popcorn Hour, the Eminent hdMedia RT EM7080’s main aim is to play any video file you can find, however dubious its source may be.


As with any of these media-hungry black boxes, the ability to handle high-quality 1080p content is paramount, and the EM7080’s connectivity is up to the task. On the back of the box are component, composite and HDMI v1.3 outputs, plus an optical audio output. There’s also a wired LAN socket and a USB host slot to connect the device to your computer – to update the firmware or transfer media directly.


A 3.5-inch hard drive can be installed into the box itself, but there are also two USB slots and an eSATA connection on its front to connect external hard drives, USB sticks or the optional Eminent Wi-Fi adaptor.


The bundled remote control is larger than that of the previous Eminent EM7075-DTS box, resembling a standard big-name TV remote. It’s well laid-out and feels right at home in-hand. The main navigational 4-way pad falls under your thumb naturally, while play/pause and fast forward controls are easily accessible using the same thumb, without much movement involved.



The lounge may be the perfect place to keep this Eminent box, alongside your HDTV, but with either wires on show, if you use external storage, or gaping USB slots if you opt for an internal hard drive, it’s never going to be much of a looker. The sides and top of the EM7080 are made with very shiny black plastic, and while the edges are rounded, there’s little sense of design finesse to this workman-like box. This is also the case with many of its main rivals, the Boxee Box being the only well-known alternative with a much more defined sense of style.


Appealing more to power users than style victims though, the codec capabilities of a niche-audience box like this are always going to be more important than its looks. Here the EM7080 comes up trumps, with full 1080p MKV support, RMVB compatibly and DTS-HD downmixing over HDMI to complement the media player standards of AVCHD, H.264, VC-1,MPEG4, M2TS, TS, AVI and MOV, among others. The spread of codecs, both audio and video, is excellent. Here’s the full round-up of codecs –

Images: HD JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIF, PNG.
Audio: DTS, AC3, MP2, MP3, OGG Vorbis, PCM, LPCM, MS-ADPCM, LC-AAC, HE-AAC, COOK, RA-lossless, FLAC.
Video Codecs: AVCHD, H.264, VC-1,MPEG1/2/3/4, MKV, M2TS, TS, ISO, AVI, MOV (and others, according to Eminent).
Subtitles: SRT, SMI, SUB, VOB (DVD) & PGS (BluRay).

The Eminent EM7080’s user interface is centred around a main menu housing options for the box’s six core elements – Movies, Music, Photo, Web Services, File Copy and Setup. These are laid-out along the right hand-side of the screen, while graphics representing each fill up the left hand-side.


It’s a simple interface that’s as intuitive as we could ask for, but next to the latest from A.C. Ryan and the WDTV range it seems ugly. The gradients and purple glow effects that accompany each menu are less stylish and sophisticated than the visuals seen in other boxes. The user interface is similar in style to A.C. Ryan’s interface from last year, seen in devices like the Playon!HD Mini, but its new UX 2.0 is much more attractive. Bad news for Eminent.


Within the three main Movies, Music and Photo options, the EM7080 offers-up options to browse through the folder structure of each storage medium, from a USB stick to UPnP. It’s testament to how basic this interface is that these options don’t disappear when they’re not available.


The right side of the file navigation view features a window that displays a preview of any selected video. This preview does tend to slow down navigation though, as scrolling halts as this video loads. These previews can be switched off entirely from the Settings menu, but it leaves the right side of the screen feeling redundant, now home to a large, static image of a piece of film for each video.



The Eminent EM7080’s interface is best thought of as a window to your content and nothing more. It works – although we did experience the odd crash – but navigating it is never more than functional, never a pleasure. This is only a deal breaker for those looking to house a truly massive video collection within the box, or those interested in making regular use of the included online features – when finding content may take minutes rather than seconds. Eminent needs to gets its software up to the standards of its rivals soon if it’s to continue offering a competitive product.


The File Copy main menu option allows transferral and deletion of files between your USB sticks, hard disk drives and computers connected over a network. Although not as effective as transferring a whole media library using a PC, you can select multiple files at once, making it a very snappy way of grabbing a movie or two off of the network or a USB stick.

The Eminent EM7080 is powered by the Realtek RTD1073DD chipset, which is capable of playing back Full-HD 1080p content without a hitch. We were very impressed with the box’s performance across the board, with no apparent slow-down or signs of struggle in almost all of our tests. We played-back 1080p content on two similar Dell 24-inch monitors, one powered by the EM7080 and the other by a Core 2 Duo desktop running the QuickTime media player, and found the Eminent’s playback to be far smoother – much easier on the eye. The only lag we noticed was with a very challenging 42MBit 1080p MKV clip, taken from an extremely detailed BBC nature series scene, played over USB. This box really can play just about anything.


SD upscaling is excellent, with digital artefacts significantly reduced with the impressive DNR (digital noise reduction) option enabled. If you’re in the market for a media streamer like this, it’s likely you’re going to want to watch HD content whenever possible, but the upscaler makes even very low quality content watchable on a 1080p screen.


When we reviewed the last (linkto:https://www.trustedreviews.com/multimedia/review/2010/02/15/Eminent-EM7075-DTS-hdMedia-Stream-Media-Player/p1 Eminent EM7075-DTS media player) box in February 2010, it didn’t feature any Internet streaming services, even though rivals like the WD TV HD Live were already paid-up members of the Internet streaming club. Eminent has patched-up this disparity with the EM7080, packing-in a roster of video streaming services.


YouTube content is available, including playback of full 1080p videos, and there are also channels for Gametrailers, Vimeo and blip.tv on top of photo services Flickr and Picasa, plus a handful of news reader channels. Patchy performance and holes in this line-up mean that the Eminent still falls some way behind the pack though.


Unlike the D-Link Boxee Box, there’s no BBC iPlayer, no 4OD and no Demand Five. You can scour YouTube for clips of your favourite shows, but it’s no replacement for access to a full catch-up service. We’re not surprised that the Dutch Eminent has left out these entirely UK-centric services, when much of the EM7080’s audience is overseas, but it does mean this isn’t the all-powerful one-box entertainment solution some little islanders may be after. Other boxes also not equipped with these services, like the Popcorn Hour A-210, tend to offer more content channels – although we’ll grant that without the UK TV channels, YouTube’s the biggest draw.


Performance within the EM7080’s Internet streaming apps is inconsistent. With the latest firmware installed (1.0.4.12) – by no means the first iteration of the EM7080 software – parts of interface text remain un-translated from the Dutch original, video content occasionally refuses to play and some features are not implemented.


HD 1080p YouTube clips that don’t suffer from the mysterious non-playing effect are rendered as brilliantly as content played through a USB stick or hard drive though. With a decent connection, playback is impressively smooth.


The box becomes warm to the touch shortly after being put to work, and there’s a fan on the box’s side to regulate temperature. This means that its operation is not entirely silent – there’s a constant buzz, but it’s a very low-level noise that shouldn’t prove distracting, or even audible, in most lounge setups.

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 https://www.trustedreviews.com/multimedia/review/2010/11/10/Western-Digital-WD-TV-Live-Hub/p1 Western Digital Live Hub. Both offer snazzier interfaces and the Western Digital offers a built-in 1TB hard drive for around £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.

Verdict

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.

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 6
  • Features 7
  • Design 6

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