Media Servers

HD Digitech HDX900 HDTV Media Streamer

ARTICLE INDEX

While audio is playing back, the HDX900 displays an interesting screen saver of underwater scenes, but I would really have liked more information about the track being played back.

Trickplay is usually the point where middleware-based systems used to have major flaws. However, it looks like Syabas did a great job for the software in the HDX900. There are several ways to jump ahead or jump back in time. The most trivial are the fast forward and rewind buttons. It might seem odd to most people, but I think these buttons are more suited for VCRs than for modern systems. I really don't see the point of using this to move ahead to a particular point in time. One other way to jump ahead or back in the movie is the numeric keys on the remote control. Pressing 1 will jump to 10% of the movie, 2 jumps to 20%, and so forth. This is a very easy way to get approximately where you want (particularly if you don't remember where you last stopped the movie) as well as for jumping to a random spot in a movie for the kids, who usually don't care where you start the movie.

The search function is a bit odd to use, you simply type the exact time where you want to resume the movie and it jumps there. This feature takes a bit of getting used to, particularly since you have to type in the entire time section. Unfortunately, if you stop a movie and forget where you stopped, there are no bookmarks and the playback does not automatically resume where you stopped.

A neat way to jump ahead or back is the 30 second jump (approximately) using the arrow keys. This is very useful for instant playback if you missed a scene, or jumping ahead past commercials in some recordings that may include them.

The system automatically finds built-in subtitles for supported files (e.g., MKV) and lets you play them back. I found this useful during those late night hours where you don't want to wake up the entire house just because your hearing has dropped off from your teenage years. For other files, you can have SRT files using the same name as the movie file and the system will detect them and use them right away. I was also impressed with the fact that the company invested the time and effort to support subtitle languages of all types, even including built-in Russian and Hebrew (which is quite difficult to implement due to the Right To Left flipping that needs to be done in order to support it).

Whereas the body of the HDX900 seems very high class and heavy, the remote feels very light and upbeat. It seems a bit of a mismatch, although the remote is both comfortable and useable. Most features are easy to find, and I think it works quite well.

I really like that the unit supports on-line video services like YouTube. Not all video services worked, and Syabas is designing firmware updates that will make these work better. The picture quality for these services is better suited for smaller computer screens than large flat living room displays, but this service works and works well. It is easy to search and playback YouTube contents.

More recently, some avid users made their own extensions to the NMT platforms, like the open source movie jukebox extension. Using this extension, one can build a jukebox display from a list of directories. The software scans through your hard drive and adds movie icons and synopses, so when you browse through your catalog you can select the movies graphically. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Apple TV concept, albeit a simpler design idea. I would hope that Syabas takes this to the next level and provides this functionality automatically as a built-in add-on for the unit.

Since testing the software of the unit, Syabas has made significant advances, but HD DIGITECH is waiting until their software stabilizes and comes out of beta. While that might mean that software updates will be fewer and farther apart, it also means that they are a lot more stabile and the updates will be quite significant when officially released. Looking at the staggering number of changes that Syabas has made since the last official HDX900 release makes my mouth water.

Conclusions

This HDX900 is a very capable and promising platform. It appears to have many untapped capabilities that would only become apparent as Syabas and HD DIGITECH expand on them and adds them to future firmware releases. The main limitations of the current unit is the lack of a front LCD display and HDMI 1.3 (which prevents bitstreaming of new Blu-ray contents), so these may require different hardware. Overall, it will be interesting to see how far along this technology can go.

The real advance in this platform is the concept of the plug-ins that can be configured and added on-board. The idea of having BitTorrent, or other applications physically run on this box can make these technologies accessible to most people. The next step is, of course, adding clients like Joost – which can let you have peer-to-peer access to the Joost network using something other than a personal computer. This seems like an obvious fit, and I assume we will have functionality like that in the foreseeable future.