ViewSonic’s VMP30 claims compatibility with an admirable number of formats. It might only support JPEG, BMP and PNG for photos and music is limited to MP3, AAC, AC3, Real Audio and WMA (unfortunately there’s no FLAC, OGG, Dolby or DTS compatibility here), but at first glance video support makes up for this. ViewSonic’s little unit can supposedly handle MPEG 1/2/4, RealVideo and H.264 at up to Full HD resolution, meaning it will play TS, VOB, AVI, Xvid/DivX, DAT, RM/RMVB, MOV and MKV video files at up to 1,080p with SRT or SSA subtitles.
Indeed, a selection of standard definition MOV and MKV files played just fine, as did RMVB. It was when we started getting into HD territory that things began looking grim; a 1080p MOV video displayed severe artefacts before completely crashing the VMP30. At this stage it’s worth mentioning the small physical on/off switch at the base of the unit, which we were forced to use a lot during testing as the media player would crash on a regular basis and even the remote’s power button wouldn’t affect it.
Reckoning a 1080p MOV might be pushing things, we consequently tried a 720p MOV, which crashed after running with artefacts and stuttering. A 1080p MKV refused to play altogether and the VMP30 has an annoying habit of just playing the next file it can handle instead of telling you there’s a problem. A 720p MKV played a few seconds before crashing, as did a 720p MP4. Basically every HD file we tried (including DivX and AVI) displayed severe artefacts, stuttered, skipped, froze or just crashed the whole unit.
Thinking this might be a problem with early firmware, we contacted ViewSonic, who informed us that no updates are planned. However, we were told that the maximum bit-rate the VMP30 could handle for H.264 and MPEG-4 files was 20Mb/s. Frankly this is incredibly low and makes the player unsuitable for most common HD video files. It did explain our failed tests though, as crashes generally occurred at points where the variable bit-rate went above this figure.
With its impressive overall build quality, decent looks and small footprint plus claimed support for so many video formats, we really wanted to like ViewSonic’s first media player – especially since with an MSRP of £60 (and street prices likely lower) it would have represented excellent value for money. Unfortunately, the niggles with the remote and interface, combined with the VMP30’s complete inability to play back the HD formats it claims to support in most real-world scenarios, make it one to avoid.
In effect it’s somewhat similar to the WD TV Mini, which costs the same but simply doesn’t claim to play the HD files the VMP30 does. Additionally the Mini supports more audio and image formats than the ViewSonic and has a more polished interface, but on the other hand the VMP30 supports more standard definition video formats and offers a digital video output, so choosing between the two depends on your priorities.
Ultimately, though, we wouldn’t go for either. Unless ViewSonic manages to fix the VMP30’s issues, the original Western Digital WD TV or better-featured Asus O!Play HDP-R1 are still the way to go if you’re looking for a media player.
Despite the ViewSonic VMP30’s positive first impression, there’s little to like here as, contrary to its claims, the unit can’t realistically handle high definition video files.
Score in detail