- Review Price: £81.00
Netgear has always focused exclusively on the home and small business network market and has consistently delivered a range of keenly price products. The MP101 represents a slightly new direction for the company as this desktop box is a digital media player that will play MP3 and WMA music files over wired and wireless networks. It will also work with a range of Internet radio stations and music streaming services. You can share music files on any Windows PC using the bundled Media Server software but you can ignore Netgear’s offer of a 30-day trail of the Rhapsody music streaming service. It is included on the CD-ROM as an installable option but don’t waste your time as it won’t work. We eventually found out from Netgear that the service is not available to users in the UK and it now offers a 60-day trial to the vTuner radio streaming service instead.
In keeping with Netgear’s philosophy the MP101 comes in at an affordable price whilst its brushed steel front panel won’t look out of place on a hi-fi rack. Central to this is a brightly lit four line text display that provides information about the unit’s status, its configuration and the tracks being played. All access is via the supplied remote control handset which provides easy access to the unit’s settings and play menus. Netgear has been a bit crafty about the MP101’s wireless capabilities as it states it is 802.11b and g compliant. What it actually means is the unit only supports 802.11b and 11Mbit/sec speeds but will connect to an access point supporting simultaneous b and g operations.
Streaming performance shouldn’t be an issue over 802.11b wireless but the additional 10/100BaseTX Fast Ethernet port at the back allows it to be wired to the network. There’s not much else to see at the rear – you get a pair of audio ports for connection to your stereo and a mini-jack for plugging in headphones. However, there are no digital outputs provided.
Installation is simple enough as you just power the device on and let it search for available wireless networks. The display keeps you updated on its progress and it had no problems finding our 802.11b network fronted by a Watchguard Firebox SOHO 6 firewall. It will show all discovered networks and you use the remote control to scroll through them and select the one you want to connect to. We also tested using a Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router and found the MP101 successfully associated with this as well.
If you’re worried about anyone eavesdropping on your choice of music the MP101 also supports 64/128-bit WEP encryption. When the unit attempts to associate with a secured access point it automatically detects that WEP is enabled and asks if you want to activate this on the player. You use the remote’s alphanumeric keypad and music control buttons to accept encryption and enter a passphrase or manual key.
We have heard reports of problems with Netgear’s Media Server but have to say it behaved impeccably during our testing. Adding music files to the Netgear collection is easy enough as the import function scans selected drives and folders looking for MP3 and WMA files. You can even use a built in scheduler to scan selected locations at regular intervals. Your next job is to organize the files into playlist, album, artist and genre categories. We ripped MP3 files using Roxio’s WinOnCD and had them served up onto our wireless network in a few minutes. Track details can be edited so you can add information about the artist, album and genre although for a large number of tracks this can get tedious. Even so, it’s worth the effort as you can use the remote to select any of these four categories from the display panel.
Smart playlists make things even easier as you can match conditions based on any or all of these categories and use keywords to automatically populate a playlist. No doubt the burning question is about sound quality and all we can say is; it’s great. Playback was very clean over both headphone and stereo connections and at no time did the wireless link cause any performance problems.
From the System tab on the Media Server you can see all connected MP101 devices along with their IP addresses. The update button takes you straight to Netgear’s website where you can download any new firmware and Media Server upgrades as they become available. We would recommend doing this regularly as we found the MP101 as supplied for review refused to play any of the vTuner radio streams until its firmware had been updated.
We enjoyed testing the MP101 and found it very easy to install and use with good playback quality. The unit offers excellent levels of control over the music provided by the Media Server so you can mix and match tracks to your heart’s content. The remote control was also simple enough to get to grips with making this package a useful addition to a home entertainment centre – just remember to upgrade it regularly to avoid any problems.
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