Network media players have been around for quite some time, but with the announcement of the Apple TV, there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in the product category. To much less fanfare, the Mvix MX-760HD was released in late 2006. It's the latest in a series of products from the company that combines a network hard drive enclosure with a digital media players--just drop in a standard PC hard drive and you're good to go. Earlier versions of the product developed something of a cult following--thanks to appearances on sites such as ThinkGeek--as a do-it-all networked media player. And deservedly so--the spec sheet for the MX-760HD covers a dizzying amount of file formats, plus a bundle of features like DVI output, slot for an internal hard drive, 720p/1080i/1080p HD output, wireless 802.11b/g, Ethernet, and dual USB ports. In the real world, the Mvix MX-760HD largely lives up to its billing and delivers high-definition WMV video, ripped DVDs, and digital music to your home theater from tons of storage devices. That's not to say everything is perfect. There are some significant caveats: wireless performance wasn't that great, output modes other than 1080i didn't look that good, and the graphical user interface could definitely use some work. But if you're willing to live with these drawbacks, the MX-760HD packs a lot punch in a small package--and at a competitive $350 price. On the other hand, those that prefer slick graphical user interfaces and prefer simplicity to flexibility would probably be served by upcoming devices like the Netgear Digital Entertainer HD or Apple TV.
Next, you'll need to format the hard drive, and the manual has instructions for doing so. However, keep in mind that if you have a sizeable hard drive, this could takes a long time--hours rather than minutes. Still, we like the fact that the drive installation is left up to the user--you get a much better bang for your buck by buying a third-party drive, and you can always upgrade it to a larger capacity in the months and years ahead. On the other hand, the fact that Mvix went with the older IDE connection rather than the newer--and faster--Serial ATA format is a bit of a mystery.
Once you get that up and running, you'll probably want to configure it to connect to either your wired or wireless network. The directions in the manual look imposing for a wired network--we certainly didn't feel like installing network protocols from deep inside Windows XP's setup menus. Instead, we played dumb and just connected everything, and it worked without a hitch with our D-Link DI-624 router after setting the MX-760HD to look for the wired connection. Likewise, just following the onscreen prompts to log on to our Wi-Fi network worked fine as well. As far as home-networking chores go, it's pretty painless.
Before you set the Mvix MX-760HD in its permanent location, you'll also want to add files to the internal hard drive, if you're using one. This can be done only by using the USB connection to a computer. That's a significant annoyance that we ran into--we'd rather be able to transfer files to the hard drive using either the wired or wireless network connection, even if it proved slower. Mvix is promising a firmware upgrade to correct this, but like all promised firmware updates, we can't guarantee when or if it will actually happen.
On the front of the player is a small LCD screen that can be used to navigate the player if the remote goes missing. Below that are a few status lights indicating which connections are active. Further down are some front-panel controls--including a navigation joystick--which do give you rudimentary control over the MX-760HD if the remote goes missing. However, the front-panel controls are pretty frustrating; when we pressed the joystick down once, it would randomly move the cursor down either one or two spaces. We were repeatedly skipping over the files we wanted and selecting the wrong ones when we got impatient. Just stick to the remote and you'll be fine.
The remote itself feels a little bit cheap, and the lack of button differentiation definitely makes it difficult to use by feel, but luckily it has none of the same issues the front-panel control has. If you're in a well-lit room, it works well enough but it's rough to navigate in the dark. We were frustrated by some button-placement issues, though. For instance, the Menu button is oft-used for DVDs, yet it's located very far from the main directional pad. As always, a nice universal remote will put this issue to rest.
When connected to a TV, you'll want to do your navigating via the onscreen interface using the remote. The interface itself is pretty utilitarian, but we've definitely seen worse. On the left hand, there's a navigation menu with five choices: movies, music, photo, mixed, and setup. Going into any of the media-specific categories will filter your digital files by type so that your video files won't show up when you're browsing your music files. Under mixed, all of your digital media files will show up, regardless of file type.
Making playlists is easy, although limited. If you're just looking to, say, put together a quick playlist for a party, you'll have no problem. Just highlight the song you want, click "add," and it will add it to your list. However, there's no ability to save playlists or the ability to change the order of songs once they're added. Not a problem if you're going to put it on random, but otherwise you'll need to select the files you want in order. There's also the Jukebox, which is basically a short-term playlist. Once the Jukebox mode is engaged, every time you select a file and press Enter, it will be added to the list of files that will be played. One major gripe we had with playing audio files is that fast-forward and rewind don't work.
Digital video hounds will appreciate the long list of files that the Mvix MX-760HD supports. The high-def versions of the WMV, ASF, AVI, and MP4 formats each work fine. For standard-definition video, it supports DivX, Xvid, Mpeg, VCD, DVD (VOB, IFO, and ISO), WMV, ASF, TP, TS, and TRP files. We put it through our torture test of files, and it handled almost everything well, although we did notice it couldn't cope with any video file that used the increasingly popular H.264 (AVC) encoding format.