Versatile and convenient streaming

Versatile and convenient streaming

With the ability to play many video and audio formats through various sources, the latest version of the Mediagate media streamer is versatile and convenient. But it still has a few problems with its interface that could frustrate many users, especially while setting it up.

The Mediagate is essentially a hard drive enclosure with video out ports and networking facilities, but it doesn't require a hard drive to be installed in order to stream media to a TV. Its 802.11g wireless or wired 10/100 Ethernet networking connections can be used to stream media from a server. Furthermore, users can copy files from the PC or notebook to a USB key, and plug it into the Mediagate in order to play the files off it.

A Serial ATA connection is present in the Mediagate, so users can install pretty much any new hard drive in it and without much difficulty. With a hard drive installed, the Mediagate can turn into an external storage device; simply attach it to a PC using the supplied USB cable and drag-and-drop files to it (users will have to use Windows' Disk Management console to initialise, partition and format the disk first if it's brand new). The Mediagate has HDMI, component, S-Video and composite ports. For audio, users can use stereo output, or tap into its optical or coaxial digital output.

With HDMI and component connections, the Mediagate is primed for use with high-definition displays, but its menu system looks shocking in full high-definition. It has been designed for a standard-definition TV and looks blocky and undefined on bigger screens - for example, when firing up an online audio stream it looks like it says it's "buttering" instead of buffering.

Its file support is limited. MP3s, .wav and .wma files played back without any problems, but it won't play copy-protected iTunes content. The unit played standard-definition DivX, XviD and VOB files, and high-definition DivX files, but the unit won't play MP4 files created by Quicktime, nor .mov files, which is inconvenient for a high-definition player.

We did have to fiddle with the aspect ratio and image size way too often to get the correct picture on our screen. Playback suffered from slightly sluggish starts, especially while loading files off a USB stick, and fast forwarding through files wasn't as fast as we were expecting. We also wish it was easier to set the aspect ratio, as we had to manually change the size and aspect of many videos. A dedicated button on the remote control for ratio changes would be welcomed.

Getting the Mediagate to recognise our wireless Internet connection was also painful. We had to go through three setup screens to ensure that the device was set to automatically acquire IP, DNS and gateway addresses. Eventually we were able to log on (using WPA-AES encryption, but it also supports TKIP) and streamed audio from some of the many services in its built-in library.

Overall, while it does have its problems, the Mediagate MG-450HD is useful and versatile, and it could (hopefully) get better with future firmware upgrades.

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