Media streamers are something we can't live without these days. There was a time when PCs didn't have any media stored on them, but, in the last five years or so, the Internet, digital cameras, camcorders and vast digital audio collections have changed all that.
HDX, a sub-brand of a Chinese company called HD Digitech, offers powerful and flexible media streamers. Its offerings compete with the likes of the Popcorn Hour machines and Western Digital's WD TV devices, but do so on their own terms, as the HDX Bone shows. This 1080p media streamer is available from HDX directly for around $119 (£79), but you'll have to pay for shipping too, which could add up to £40 or so from China.
The Bone is a small unit. Nevertheless, on its rear, you'll find a full-sized HDMI output that needs no adaptor. There's also a mini-USB socket, power input and a 3.5mm AV out connector. To use this AV output, you'll need to use the supplied breakout cable, but, as this is a 1080p streamer, we can't see a good reason to do so.
On the front, there's a window for receiving infrared signals from the remote, and a small light that tells you if the machine is on. That's pretty much it. You'll also notice that there are two small screws on the front. If you remove these, you can fit a 2.5-inch laptop hard drive, should you wish. If you do, note that the hard drive has to be of the SATA variety. It will simply slide into place -- the only complication is that you'll need to screw the drive to the mainboard.
The Bone can, if you so choose, be configured to run , Google's mobile-phone operating system. We're in two minds about the value of this feature on the Bone, but it's certainly got plenty of future potential. You need to have a hard drive fitted for this feature to work.
To install Android, first head over to the HDX Web site and grab the latest firmware for your Bone. Then do the same with the most recent Android pack. Unpack these files from their archives and plonk them on the root of a USB stick. Install the firmware update first; then, from the menu, select 'install Android' and the machine will format your built-in hard drive -- make sure you don't have anything important on it -- and put the Android build in the appropriate partition.
What can you do with Android on the Bone, then? Well, sadly, not a massive amount. Not all apps will work, because they either need telephony hardware that isn't present in the Bone, or for you to use a touchscreen. Web browsing is possible, however, and you can put APK files -- installers for Android apps -- onto the device and install the apps that way. This is necessary because Google doesn't allow non-licensed hardware to access its app store.
We didn't use the Android feature much, but it doesn't really get in the way and it's fun to be able to take advantage of it, especially if you're an Android nut. We can see great potential for this feature in the future, but, ultimately, the user interface that comes with the Bone is more than suitable for watching videos.
Support for a wealth of codecs
HDX says the Bone can play everything. We can certainly confirm that it plays most key formats. MKV-wrapped files are fine, as are AVI files containing MPEG-4 video. The Bone can also play ISO DVD images, MP3s and even Flash video. It has no problems decoding high-bit-rate 1080p video with DTS surround sound either.
In terms of audio prowess, it can downmix DTS and Dolby Digital, as well as the high-definition, lossless variants: DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR and Dolby TrueHD. AAC, FLAC, OGG and MP3 files are all supported for a range of music codecs.
As with most similar devices, the Bone is also happy to accept your holiday snaps in either PNG, JPEG or BMP form.