The Apple TV was the first media streamer to be based on a HTPC. With a Pentium M processor and the Nvidia GeForce Go 7300, it wasn't long before it was hacked to run custom firmware. When introduced, it could support upto 720p resolution for video playback. Sadly, lack of updates to the core hardware have kept this capability stagnant. The Apple TV deserves mention as a pioneer of sorts, but byeond that, there is nothing much to write home about.

AppleTV - A Pioneer of Sorts

The introduction of the Intel Atom processor in 2008 led to the appearance of net-tops. This processor, despite being woefully underpowered, had the advantage of being based on the x86 architecture, and brought along with it a huge software base. The only missing piece in the puzzle was the fact that it lacked the horsepower to decode and process HD video. Nvidia and Broadcom pitched in with add-ons to offload video processing from the CPU.

Broadcom Crystal HD

Based on BCM70012 for the 2009 Atom processors and the BCM70015 for 2010, the CrystalHD mini-PCI-E card provides acceleration for all mainstream HD media. A multitude of OEMs have started to use this solution in their netbooks as a means of providing HD playback capability. However, from a media streamer point of view, it is difficult to imagine this as a competitor for the Nvidia Ion. Any media streamer worth its salt interfaces with the rest of the AV components using HDMI. With the plain vanilla Atom chipset (using the Intel IGP) providing no HDMI output, and the Broadcom offering being an add-on card, it would be hard to justify tacking this on to a serious media streamer net-top. If the HTPC already has a HDMI output, it probably already has a graphics core capable of accelerating HD video. All said, these Broadcom offerings are probably aimed at the non-techie netbook crowd (who want to enjoy 1080p YouTube videos on a 720p screen!) and not the media streaming enthusiast.

The BCM970012
What is the use of 1080p without HDMI?
[ Picture Courtesy : LogicSupply ]

Nvidia Ion

The GeForce 9400M chipset forms the core of the media streaming capabilities of any Nvidia Ion based HTPC. With VDPAU acceleration under Linux, and excellent driver support on Windows, it is unlikely that you will encounter any mainstream HD media which doesn't get hardware accelerated playback. A XBMC or Boxee install pretty much guarantees an out-of-the-box experience. The chipset also provides for a HDMI output, making it easy to integrate with the rest of the home theater setup. One of the most interesting off-the-shelf HTPC based media streamer is the Myka Ion. With 2 GB of DRAM and a plethora of connectivity options, this is one Ion net-top which would probably never disappoint you as a HTPC option.

Myka Ion
An out-of-the-box Media Streamer with all the HTPC Advantages

Nvidia Ion HTPCs can be built for around US$300. As far as power consumption goes, a typical Nvidia Ion HTPC setup consumes around 30W at full load. Assuming that we have a HTPC with XBMC or Boxee installed, let us analyze how it performs with respect to various media streamer metrics. Connectivity is almost never an issue with these setups. HDMI outputs are usually present for transmitting both audio and video. Media can be obtained from a local hard disk, card reader, USB port or even eSATA in some cases. Ethernet ports are a default too. Some setups may even have wireless capabilities. VOD streaming such as Hulu and Netflix work without much hassle. DRM content, such as those on Blu-Ray disks, can be handled using appropriate playback software. The proper selection of a video card also ensures that most codecs can be hardware accelerated. An important point to note is that there is no GPU capable of accelerating RMVB playback, but the good thing is that there is probably a decent x86 processor (not necessarily Atom) to fall back upon, and HD media (which requires hardware acceleration mainly) is not encoded in RMVB usually.

HTPCs such as the Zino HD which use the AMD Atom equivalent along with a Radeon HD3200 chipset can also act as capable media streamers with XBMC / Boxee. The performance and constraints are similar to that of an Ion net-top. However, the HD3200 is not as powerful as the GPU used in Ion with respect to video decode acceleration. So, we will restrict ourselves to the popular Ion platform while considering HTPC based media streamers for now.

Introduction Blu-Ray Player / Media Streamer Combo
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  • wiak - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    hello Aikouka mr lover 恋人
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link


    Thanks for your feedback. We will definitely make a comparison of how much each extra feature costs (over a particular base price) in our reviews.

    All said, except for ease of use and power concerns, a properly built HTPC scores over a media streamer any time.
  • cknobman - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Why did this get no mention?

    I have several media streaming devices (this, patriot, and xbox 360) and the kodak is by far the best one with the most features, smoothest interface, built in wifi N, 1080p capabilities.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link


    Yes, we are aware of the Kodak Theater HD player. In terms of features in the product spec, it doesn't seem to compare that favourably with other players in the market. [ ] ; Of course, if Kodak is interested in getting its review out, we will carry it forward. As of now, Anandtech doesn't have any plans to review this unit, but things are likely to change going forward. We will keep you updated!
  • johnlannock - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    What a great idea for a section. A few months ago I purchased a single Patriot Box office streamer as the price point had dropped to the point where I wanted to replicate it across my home network ; cat 6e cables, NAS, mult servers, wireless etc. My main streamer is a win 7 64bit mch running win 7 ultimate. Imagine my surprise when I was informed by Patriot support that the only way to share folders across a wired LAN was to invoke "regedit" and modify my registry.


    Now think of the implications for Patriot if that is needed for the mass market. The margin implications are staggering for Patriot.

    Please include this type of "software mod implication" in your future reviews of these boxes.

    I hate this requirement as I do not want to have to maintain this regedit mod as Microsoft continues to mod Win 7. A CONSUMER BOX SHOULD NOT REQUIRE SYS PROG MODIIFCATIONS.

    Needless to say I have not rolled out these boxes to my network.

    Please feel free to contact me if you need more details.

    NOT HAPPY in the Far North (Canada)
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    johnlannock, Thanks for your feedback.

    We will include this in our future reviews:

    (1) Ease of networking feature usage / Implications on host OS
  • pjladyfox - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    The biggest weakness that I've found in just about every single NMT (read: Network Media Tank) is the depth of subtitle support. Currently, right now most boxes while they say they support SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, and SMI only spit out the subtitles if they are in ANSI format and nothing in UNICODE. Worse still they also default to this rather garish font size that either takes up a large portion of the screen or is extremely difficult to see on white backgrounds.

    The other big problem is the complete lack of full softsub support by a lot of these devices. While you can get the subtitles the formatting is completely stripped or ignored. This pretty much kills the device from being able to display non-English, or hardsubbed, HD titles since they mostly come in .MKV format with softsubs.

    So if you are a fan of these kinds of videos you're pretty much stuck with a HTPC which comes with it's own variety of problems and to get decent performance on HD media pretty much require a system more powerful than a Atom system since not all formats are GPU accelerated like RMVB.

    If proper subtitle support could be implemented, while keeping the cost low, in these boxes the sales for these would greatly increase. Otherwise, right now it's like playing Russian roulette when you come home from the store wondering if the box you have will support the videos you watch or not. -_-
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    pjladyfox, Thanks for your feedback. We will note the following point for our reviews:

    (1) Support for UNICODE subtitles display
  • pjladyfox - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Would it be possible to add the following as well:

    1. SSA v4.00 support
    2. ASS v4.00+ support

    If you require more info a good starting point would be

    A lot of boxes, like the Popcorn Hour, claim SSA/ASS support but are only really parsing the text and converting it to .SRT stripping out the style and event tags. While nobody really expects full support just having support to the point where the position and subtitles appear correctly would go a long way. ^_^
  • daskino - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Hey Annadtech, finally a serious media like yours take up the sprawling market of media players. great to see i will follow it closely. for a more in depth view of the media player market. Also look at my page and blog on the digital media players.

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