Thursday, October 30, 2008

va3bay update, ide hd media player review

Haven't been posting to this thing in a while.  That amateur tv station va3bay that I mentioned before seems to have gone offline within the last couple of weeks, which is too bad. Since I first posted on it, the station switched to a more detailed powerpoint-style broadcast on the physics of radio signals and the ionosphere and other topics related to amateur radio. Later, it switched to what looked like a satellite feed of a nasa space mission. This was cool in a way but not really that exciting to watch. The earlier broadcasts were at least educational. I may try to get in touch with the guy who was doing this and find out what happened. Hopefully it wasn't that nasa shut him down.

I thought I might try a little product review for a media player/usb hard drive enclosure (model HM2-U2TV) I picked up a few weeks ago. It's made by a company called mediasonic which does a line of similar enclosures; the 2.5" IDE version I got is the cheapest (C$50) and offers the lowest resolution (480p.) It has coaxial sound and component outs but I use a tv of the era with regular rca a/v jacks so I have not made use of these. 

I had a 160gb IDE wd hard drive around from a laptop I had that died, so that is what I used. There were already some movies and tv shows on there so I had thought to just leave things more or less as they were, but the media playing capabilities only work when the hd is in FAT format so I used partitionmagic to change the format from ntfs. As far as I know even FAT32 will not work, so longer file names will end up being truncated and I believe the size limit is 4gb.

When I first hooked the machine up to a tv I was not impressed at all with the startup time (5+ minutes.) When it starts up it seems to do a scan of all the files, so when I deleted the windows folder and everything else other than the movies it started up in only a few seconds. The compatibility with the video files I had was decent but not amazing, as some xvid files will refuse to play, including whole seasons of shows. I haven't had much luck figuring why this is but in some cases (not in others) it seems to have been solved by deleting the files and re-copying. Another thing that happens occaisionally is that the names in a directory will be garbage characters, which was definitely the result of a copying error as re-copying always fixed the names.

Overall I'm reasonably happy with this device for the price I paid (and considering that the company was one I'd never heard of): for playing downloaded video on a tv it has advantages over the two main alternatives, using a computer tv-out (much less portable, even with a laptop) or re-encoding and burning to dvd (time-consuming and wasteful for one-time use). The 2.5" SATA version is only a little more expensive and offers more resolution and potential storage space, so it probably makes more sense if you don't have a reason to use IDE like I did.