You might think that such a small box wouldn’t have enough room for the connections required, but again the Freecom surprises. A quick look at the rear of the device reveals a veritable feast of outputs and inputs. For video, there’s component output (supporting 720p and 1080i), DVI (supporting 720p, 1080i and 1080p), S-Video and composite video out, though there’s not quite enough room for SCART.
For audio, there’s a simple pair of RCA phono sockets, plus optical and coaxial digital audio output if you want to bypass the box’s rather average audio circuitry. Finally, there’s an RJ45 socket for 10/100 Ethernet connection, a threaded attachment for the wireless networking aerial and a pair of USB sockets – one for connecting dumb devices such as thumb drives to the device and another for connecting it to a PC or laptop to use as an external hard drive. You’ll notice that it doesn’t have an HDMI output but this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as 1080p is supported over DVI.
In addition to all this, should the 500GB drive supplied not be sufficient for your needs, the box can be bought as a bare bones system that you can add your own NTFS or FAT-32 drive to. Can I take a breath now?
So how does it work? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Video file format support is good, with support for DivX, Xvid, AVI, MP4, WMV9, DAT, MPG and VOB files – though there’s no support for MOV files – and the picture quality is decent too. It won’t compete with a decent DVD player – my upscaling Denon 1920 produces a better quality picture, but it isn’t too far behind.
But I’m not convinced of the quality of the decoding chip, or Freecom’s implentation of it. As with the Netgear streamer, the Freecom’s 802.11g adaptor isn’t quite up to streaming anything really high resolution, with anything more demanding than 720p DivX files proving too much for it. I tested its mettle using some 1080 HD WMA files downloaded from the Microsoft Showcase website and, after a few seconds, the sound disappeared and the picture began to stutter. But with lower resolution DivX files I noticed a less serious but nonetheless obvious, single frame stutter. Bizarrely, even when transferred to the hard disk, the playback still stuttered in exactly the same way. VOB files were the only ones I tested that seemed immune to this issue.
It is at least better than the EVA8000 at fast forwarding through files, and scanning through files to find a point where you left off is more effective as well. It also bookmarks your place in a file automatically when you hit the stop button, making it easy to return to watching a file at a later date. The user interface itself is basic, but functional and, if anything, slightly easier to use than the Netgear as well.