HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 2: MediaSmart UI

MediaSmart Connect UI/Dashboard

On the first boot-up of the Connect you get basic setup
options including language, resolution (720p or 1080i only), and more.  After this simple process you are greeted
with the MediaSmart UI/Dashboard which includes options for the local video,
music, photo, online service functionality as well as a link to the Media
Center Extender function.  The whole
process works very much like the Xbox 360 Dashboard.

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The Connect is based on the same Sigma Designs 8622 processor
that the Linksys DMA2100/2200 and D-Link DSM-750, so unfortunately this means
the processor is just a bit slow for a fluid UI experience.  This is evident in the MediaSmart UI as well
as the Media Center Extender.  The
MediaSmart UI is plagued by slow performance throughout however, with videos
taking 3-5 seconds before they start on a wired connection (doesn’t happen in
the Extender function) and the scrolling through folders being equally as
painful.  While most of the MediaSmart UI
functions work great, they are not exactly for the user with a large media
library.  I’m assuming this most of this just
shows the limitations of a 300MHz embedded processor versus the much higher
processing power of a dual core PC that actually hosts an Extender session.

Other issues with the MediaSmart UI include the video skip
functionality being limited to using fast forward instead of a 30-second skip
function.  Using the skip on the remote
actually moves you to the next video in the folder.

Overall, the MediaSmart UI is nothing amazingly special, but
I don’t think its goal to compete with the media management functions of Media
Center.  Content is displayed in list or
thumbnail view for videos, ID information for music, etc.  Video playback is dependent on the UPnP
server you are using on the PC, so if you are having format issues you might
need to rename files to a supported one by your UPnP server or switch to a
fully functional UPnP server (eg. Windows Media Player supports limited
formats).  The online services like
CinemaNow work, but those use to the Media Center UIs for these same services
will notice the MediaSmart equivalent is a bit watered down but still
functional.  Again, this is most likely
due to the embedded web browser and processer and limit graphic and animation
options.

Lastly on the MediaSmart UI you have the ability to play
content back locally via USB thumb drives, USB hard drives, and HPs Pocket
Media drives.  NTFS, FAT, and FAT32 are
supported, but remember this local storage applies only to the MediaSmart UI
and not the Media Center Extender functions. 

MediaSmart UI File
Format Support

As for file format support, the MediaSmart UI does pretty
well with a few exceptions.  First of
all, when connected with HDMI both the MediaSmart UI and Extender output 2
channel PCM audio no matter what. 
Considering I saw the exact same issue with the Linksys DMA2200 I
believe this might be a Sigma Designs issue (I’ll update the Linksys review if the same applies),
however it makes HDMI pointless.  I had
to move to SPDIF and Component to really test the unit.  Given this, that included HDMI cable cost
becomes a moot point, and you will have to go buy a set of Component cables and
a optical SPDIF cable in order to get 5.1 audio out.

Other than that, the big issue is that MKV is still not
supported and WMA9 Professional 5.1 is decoded and output as 2-channel.  I’ve talked to the guys at HP and I know that
MKV is at least on the radar, but no idea when or if it will ever be added to
the MediaSmart Connect.  The fact that
they at least know about it was a welcomed surprise however.  Given that DivX,
Inc. will use MKV in DivX 7
, you can expect more devices to support MKV.

Note: Media Center Extender file format support is covered in the next
section

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HP
MediaSmart Connect Review Part 1: Overview

HP
MediaSmart Connect Review Part 3: Extender

9 thoughts on “HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 2: MediaSmart UI

  1. Wow, a slow user interface and it still won’t play any of the movies I have converted to MKV (h.264) formats. Thanks, but I’ll pass!

    Rob

  2. Seems promising though for h.264 .ts content recorded via the Hauppauge HD-PVR. I assume the Mediasmart UI can be used to access the content from recording directories updated by Sage or BTV. 5.1 audio output is expected as a firmware update to the HD-PVR (hopefully soon) so the component and optical cables should work for this as well. Wondering just how slow the interface will be though via 802.11n vs ethernet.

  3. I bought an HP Mediasmart TV with this function built in. It was the only thing I liked about the TV. It definitely worked, but the server software that had to be installed on the computer would drop occasionally. I do recall a lag issue, and now that i think about it, it was a pain. I never knew if the computer went offline or not, so I had to keep checking it. Overall, though, I thought it was a good idea that worked acceptably.

    I’d have kept the set, if it only looked good. The TV itself was terrible (black levels were just blobs of black), so I returned it. But the Mediasmart end of things was decent. For this to be integrated into a TV is definitely an idea whose time is here.

    Now I use a networked Vista MC laptop connected to a Philips HDTV, which looks and works much better.

  4. You state that you “had to move to SPDIF and Component to really test the unit,” making the HDMI cable moot in that it limits transport to 2-channel PCM audio. However, in every example I’ve ever heard of, you can use the HDMI connection for video and supplement it with 5.1 audio via S/PDIF. Is that somehow not possible here? In other words, you have suggested that you can’t get multichannel audio unless you transport video via the Component output.

  5. The Connect like other devices, indeed allows simultaneous s/pdif audio out and HDMI or Component video out.
    So, you don’t need to use component to get s/pdif out.

    Thanks

  6. Chris made an excellent list of supported file formats/codecs.
    You actually don’t have to rename .ts, .mp4, .m4a and a few more file types as long as you install HP’s software on your PC (The MediaSmart Services gateway). HP’s server exposes those files automatically.

    HP’s list of supported Codecs can also be found in
    http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?docname=c01473471&lc=en&cc=us&dlc=en&product=3724770&lang=en

    Thanks
    TV Guy2 (working for HP)

  7. Hmmm, $350 vs $179 for a Popcorn Hour. Popcorn Hour has component output, HDMI, can play 1080p, can hold a hard drive, can view web content (YouTube etc), has a faster and newer Sigma chipset … I think I’ll pass too.

    HP, despite having reliable (albeit overpriced) products, is usually a step or two behind cutting edge technology.

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