The X5000 has a solid look to it, and it should -- it's a solid enclosure in black metal with solid lines and absolutely nothing in the way of smoothed edges or fancy-schmancy glowing doodads. That's something of a double-edged design decision, however, as while it looks the part of a bit of high-end AV equipment, it also leaves it with some rather rough edges and a feel that makes it seem a little bit on the cheap side in terms of build quality. As an example, there's a USB port on the side of the X5000 that allows it to stream compatible media from USB drives, but it's basically just a rough hole that's been cut out of the metal. The other problem with this particular port is that if you choose to put the X5000 in an AV cabinet along with your other AV equipment you probably won't be able to access it, unless you've got a gap in your cabinet at the side. There is a secondary USB port, but it's at the back of the X5000 next to the heat sink, where it's both hot and hard to reach.
The front of the X5000 has the same simple display style that some will love and some will loathe, with buttons only for simple playback functions as well as a somewhat clicky power button. Every other function of the X5000 is based around its remote, which is a weird beast on its own. Basic functions are mapped in rather illogical places. There's no size difference in the play/pause/stop buttons, while the DVD menu button is on a rocker along with the display button, and we've got no idea why.
The rear of the X5000 houses just about every connection interface you're likely to need with the exception of DVI. What you do get is HDMI, Component, S-Video and Component connections for video, as well as optical, coaxial and analog audio outputs, all of which are clearly labelled.
The X5000 is a media player with support for DVD playback as well as streamed media over a network or via attached USB drives. It supports up to 1080p HD displays -- presuming your screen can deal with that -- via HDMI, although naturally you'll have to drop down to SD displays if you're using anything but the HDMI or Component connections. It's also a network-aware player, via either its 10/100 ethernet port, or wirelessly using an 802.11b/g antenna that connects to the rear of the player. The X5000 is a UPnP-compatible player, and NeoDigits offers its own take on UPnP server software on its website, called NeoLink. The NeoLink application allows you to share music, photos and video to the X5000, as well as opening up your bookmarks for TV-based web surfing.
Neodigits sells the X5000 as a media player for audiophiles particularly, and with that in mind the X5000 is built from some very high-end components, including a Wolfson Audio DAC and a BurrBrown OpAmp, combined with gold-plated audio connectors. Combine that with the 1080p-capable output (via HDMI), and you've potentially got a very potent media player indeed.
Setting up the X5000 will take a little bit of patience, as by default it comes out of the box configured to deliver video via the composite video port -- hardly the HD video conniseur's port of choice. You can either set the connection you'd prefer from an onscreen menu if you do connect up by composite in the first place, or use the TV Modes button to skip through all the choices. Skipping is a pretty slow and tedious process, however, and it's hampered by the fact that if you overshoot by pressing the button too many times, you've then got to go through every other choice again before you can get back to the choice you wanted. Likewise, in the setup annoyances category, we struggled for quite some time to get wireless networking working properly on the X5000, especially as it's tough to get the SSID of your wireless network noticed.
Playback of directly connected (DVD/USB) media with the X5000 was superb through HDMI/optical connections, and predictably less so with the lower-end connection options. On the network side, things were slightly less impressive. That's partly due to the nature of 802.11g networks; while they're theoretically capable of delivering video without stuttering, the reality is that in most situations they'll struggle. In its favour, the X5000 handled network dropouts a little more elegantly than many other streaming solutions we've tested, as it simply paused the video until it had enough cached data; that's much more pleasant to the eye than getting a stream of corrupted video to watch. We did find that if the player was used for very long periods -- such as running it as a music jukebox -- it had a tendency to get rather hot and lock up, which was annoying.
The NeoLink software has a clean interface, but it's not without its problems. For some reason, we coudln't get it to run beyond the splash screen on one of our test PCs -- a splash screen which declares it to be "Media Sever" software, by the way -- although plenty of other UPnP solutions such as TVersity ran without problems on the same system. The ability to use your IE or Firefox bookmarks to browse on your TV sounds good in theory, but the implementation is frankly awful, as scrolling is always done to the next hyperlink, which can see you jumping all around certain web pages losing information in the process. That kind of feature-poor implementation continues with the photo and music playback options. Music playback includes a slideshow of images -- but there's no way to use your own photos. Likewise, you can run photo slideshows -- but not accompany them with music.
The X5000 can access online video and audio streaming services, but even with a nice internal amp, there's not much you can do with heavily compressed video and audio to make it sound good, and putting it up on a 1080p display is only going to highlight how awful it looks.
The X5000 is an intriguing mix of really good components and design, and some frankly awful ones. Some of our issues could be resolved, however, with firmware updates -- while we were testing at least one firmware update was released -- and with an asking price of AU$769, it does come in cheaper than most media centre competitors.