Originally Posted by takingchase
I have grown entirely sick of trying to use my ps3 as a media hub, there is just to much work involved. I need something more entry level as I already have a dedicated blu-ray player. Right now the Patriot Box Office is looking good but I'm not really sure what I should be looking for. Here are my needs:
-Will play 1080p mkv files most of which are around 8gigs
-Can handle subtitles since I'm a lover of foreign films
-I have a 5.1 system, I would prefer something that doesn't downmix to 2.0
- Wireless would be nice but not necessary
- I'm intrigued by internet tv but again not necessary
- Esata would be a plus but not necessary
There are a lot of entry level players, but right now the one I would say that stands out is the Seagate FreeAgent Theater plus
because it is a very good player that is on clearance at NewEgg for $70
which makes it a steal -- but for how much longer. It's on clearance because Seagate has introduced their "new" model, the GoFlex TV, which appears to be identical to the FAT+ in function (they supply 1 manual for both players) but in a new package to accommodate their new line of GoFlex HDD units. IOW the new model offers nothing actually new. I have one and I can say the FAT+ plays a large variety of formats, and is stable/dependable with few glitches -- it has never crashed on me and I tend to use RW a lot
during video playback because my girls just can't shut up during critical dialog scenes. Yes, it handles subtitles just fine, but I prefer to listen and watch the video rather than read the screen.
I bought the FAT+ as my entry level unit to enjoy now and learn what I wanted in my next, presumably more expensive, media player. After much reading and using, here is my opinion:
The whole media player market is very new/young and heavily populated with names you have never heard of. There is lots of good and lots of junk and lots of inflated prices. This is to be expected with a new-tech market that hasn't shaken out the minor players and the major names that are just dipping their toes in for a taste. The better
entry level players (the $100 range), like the Seagate FAT+ and the WDTV Live Plus all play, low bitrate (<10Mbps) content like DVD.iso rips pretty flawlessly with full menu support. I have streamed DVD rips perfectly over wireless-G to the FAT+, but cannot recommend wireless for streaming unless you have a very
solid wireless connection -- I didn't, so have since converted to "wired" powerline adapters -- all part of that learning process I mentioned. And also I think the wireless-N adapter for the Seagate is very over-priced at $50.
What appears to distinguish the entry-level from the very expensive is the level of support for high bitrate BD content. The better entry-level players will all play high-bitrate video very well from BD rips as .m2ts, .mkv and even BDMV folder structures and BD.iso as long as you are playing from an attached HDD (generally USB). However, the entry-level players fall down in several areas for BD support:
- Network streaming -- 100baseT is perfectly adequate for streaming HD, but just about all of the entry-level players have some issue with streaming high bitrate content over a network from a server/NAS. It appears to be a function of the network chipset in the box that just can't handle the high bitrates. Using test files, I have determined the FAT+ can't stream bitrates >22Mbps over 100baseT.
- BD menu support -- currently, only the most expensive players (i.e. Dune and PCH C-200) have support for BD menus. The better entry-level players will play from a BD.iso by drilling into the STREAM folder and picking the biggest .m2ts file to play, but they won't do BD menus.
- HD audio passthrough -- most entry-level players do not pass through both DD TrueHD and DTS MA. The better entry-level players will not choke on an HD audio track if you include it in your rip. They'll extract the core 5.1 audio from the HD track and pass that through.
- BD playlist support -- because entry-level players don't do BD menus they also lack support for the BD playlist. Many BD titles are not authored as a single .m2ts file. I've seen the main title split up into as many as 20 smaller .m2ts files (i.e. Disney's "UP"). A player that doesn't support the playlist will just pick the biggest segment in the STREAM folder and play that. This is not an insurmountable problem just an annoyance that requires some extra processing time to assemble the fragments into a single .m2ts with something like TSMUXER.
- Support for forced subtitles -- I'm not aware of any entry-level player that supports forced subtitles from a BD rip.
Currently, players that handle the above limitations are all at the "higher end" meaning much more expensive. What we can expect is that as the market matures and starts to shake out the competition will be fierce. More and more players will be introduced that handle the above issues at lower price points. The minor players will disappear and fully functional players will come down to the $150 range. In the mean time, if you are willing to compromise and work around the above limitations you can get a quality entry-level player like the FAT+ or WDTV Live plus at very pocket-friendly prices that will provide many hours of enjoyment and learning.