Cast your mind back a few years and you'll soon realise how momentous the rise of media streamers has been. A couple of factors have really spurred the uptake of these devices, among them the ease with which it's possible to download video from various Web sites and other Internet services. There are both legal and illegal ways these machines can be used, but, as time goes on, we're sure the entertainment industry will get better at using these devices to make more money.
The 1080p HDX BD-1 is a highly specified machine, and has numerous tricks up its brushed aluminium sleeve. Its most impressive talent is its ability to play movies from Blu-ray discs, as long as you attach an external Blu-ray drive to it. You can order the BD-1 from the US via HDX's Web site for $269 (£165), including shipping, or from a number of European distributors.
During this review, we'll mention the Popcorn Hour boxes. This is because the Popcorn Hour and HDX machines use similar Sigma processors and, until recently, HDX used the Popcorn Hour firmware, with some minor visual tweaks. Now, though, the HDX machines are using their own firmware which comes with a new interface called 'HDX Voir'. This means that you can no longer use the HDX machines with the Popcorn Hour media-sharing software myiHome.
Variable build quality
The BD-1 is a slightly odd beast. On the one hand, it's made from a tasteful brushed metal, finished in matte black. On the other hand, when there's no 3.5-inch SATA hard drive inserted into its side bay, it makes a funny rattling sound, and the infrared receiver window on our sample wasn't very well glued in -- it could easily be pushed out if you gave it a gentle shove.
Overall, though, we're pretty impressed. This is certainly a tiny machine, and it's sturdy and feels well-built where it matters. We're especially happy with the connections at the rear. Where relevant, they're gold-plated, and there's a good selection of inputs and outputs. Because of the external Blu-ray support, you get USB 2.0 and eSATA connections for high-speed data transfer. There are also HDMI, component and composite video outputs, and both types of digital audio output -- optical and coaxial.
Networking is provided by a 'gigabit-capable' Ethernet socket. Capable doesn't mean 'working' though, so, until we hear otherwise, we're going to assume that gigabit networking will need to be enabled later via a firmware update. Still, 100Mbps is more than fast enough for most purposes, so you're unlikely to miss gigabit networking.
One of the biggest downsides of the BD-1 is that it can no longer talk to Popcorn Hour's software, myiHome. Instead, the BD-1 uses Universal Plug and Play to get media from servers on your home network. In theory, this is actually a more straightforward way of doing things, because Windows users can simply use Windows Media Player to share media. The problem is that Windows Media Player is horribly limited by Microsoft to only stream certain kinds of file. For example, it will happily send AVI files to any machine on your network, but, take an MKV file and try to stream it, and you'll be bang out of luck.
For this review, we tested about every Windows UPnP server we could find. None of them worked properly, or as well as myiHome does for the Popcorn Hour boxes. We aren't sure yet if HDX will be making its own media-sharing software. We really hope it does, because the products available otherwise just can't seem to do what we need them to. Take TVersity, for example -- the set-up process appears quite simple, but the reality is that we couldn't persuade it to share any video at all, although it did show in the HDX menu. That's more than we can say for other software we tried, which refused to show up at all.