Devices that help play video, photos and music on a home-cinema system are always welcome in our offices. We love fiddling with such machines and discovering what's possible now that wasn't just a few short years ago. These days, 1080p video is available to all who seek it out, we've got TVs that can display it, and there's equipment that gets it from our computers to our sets without much hassle at all.
The Hisense MP800H Media HD Player offers 1080p video playback either via USB or over your home network. The best part, though, is that it does this for around £70. You can't argue about the price -- it's a bargain.
Simple and unfussy design
In terms of design, the MP800H doesn't offer much to shout about. Its little black chassis is rather stylish, and it weighs virtually nothing. It feels somewhat cheap to the touch, but not excessively so, and let's not forget that this machine is just going to sit under your TV.
At the side, you'll find two USB inputs. These are used for connecting either flash-type drives or portable hard drives. Having two inputs is great, because it means you don't have to spend ages plugging in and unplugging different devices. At the back of the machine are a power socket, Ethernet jack, HDMI output, SPDIF digital audio socket and RCA jacks for stereo audio and component video. That's it -- there are no other connections anywhere on the machine. This simplicity is a good thing.
After we opened the box, one of the first things we noticed was the supplied remote control. We haven't seen anything quite this ghastly for some time. Not only is it ugly but it isn't really that functional either. Its design means you're very likely to pop the battery cover off by mistake, which is clearly quite irritating.
To give you an idea of how frustrating the controller is, we need to refer to our favourite media streamers, the Popcorn Hour range. The remotes for the A-100, A-110 and C-200 give you plenty of control over your media files. For example, you can select a specific point in the file by typing in a time in hours, minutes and seconds. You can also skip forward in 30 second increments or press one of the number buttons to jump though the file in increments of 10 per cent. For example, pressing 2 on the controller jumps to 20 per cent of the way through a file.
The MP800H's remote has none of these options. All you can do is fast-forward or rewind at 32x normal speed. As you can imagine, fast-forwarding is an arduous task when you're trying to get to a specific point halfway through a movie.
When you boot up the MP800H, you're greeted by a simple menu system. The options available are 'media player', 'file manager' and 'settings'. For playing back video from the USB sockets, network or universal plug and play over the network, you select the media-player option. The file-manager option is for copying files between USB devices or deleting them.
Within the settings sub-menu, there are the usual audio, video, networking, language, screensaver and slide-show options. Setting up the MP800H is quite simple. Even a non-technical user should have no problem getting it up and running.
Strengths and weaknesses
When we browsed the network to find our PC, we were met with an interface that can't be described as entirely intuitive. Our corporate networks were listed. We selected the one on which our PC was connected and searched though the list to find our host PC. Sadly, with over 300 machines on the network, this wasn't a speedy process. The MP800H doesn't make it easy for you, and there's no function for bookmarking a server so you can find it later on. That said, it's unlikely that your home network will have 300 computers on it, so this step won't be so painful for most users.
Once connected, browsing our test files posed no problems at all. The MP800H found everything we had shared, and played it well, with the exception of a 1080p test movie (more on that later). The network playback required pretty much no configuration. There are options to filter by type of content, but we're opposed to doing so, because it makes it harder to browse a complete list of your media.
We were very pleased to see that the machine supports DVD ISOs via the network. This is something that the Popcorn Hour machines can't do out of the box, although plug-ins make it possible, so we were thrilled to see our DVD rip present and correct. Sadly, it wasn't plain sailing from there. Although the ISO image played, we couldn't make the remote control navigate around the DVD menu structure, which meant we couldn't play the film. This is what reviewers describe as a 'fail'.
One of the small bugs we noticed was that, when you select a file, you have to wait for the preview to begin before you can start playback. This doesn't take long, but the average human's brain works much faster than the MP800H and even a delay of a second or so can be frustrating.
1080p network playback
While 720p video played back well over the network connection, 1080p proved slightly more problematic, with our 13Mbps test file stuttering at certain points. You'll need to decide if that's a problem for you. Certainly, it's entirely possible to connect a USB drive directly to the MP800H and watch high-bit-rate video that way.
Easy to use
For the most part, the MP800H isn't difficult to use. The interface isn't that beautiful, but finding files isn't difficult at all. USB media is especially easy to navigate. When you select a file from the list, it previews in a window on the right, and can simply be selected to start playback.
A better remote control would greatly improve the system. The right playback controls would make watching movies much simpler.
All things considered, the Hisense MP800H Media HD Player does a pretty good job of playing back high-definition video when a hard drive's connected. We had no trouble with the USB inputs having enough bandwidth to play our very data-intensive video. Picture quality is good too, and we've no complaints at all about the digital sound that the player sends to an AV receiver.
The MP800H is also cheap. A Popcorn Hour device will cost you at least twice as much as this little machine. The MP800H is certainly capable enough for most people, though. Having said that, we prefer the Western Digital WD TV and, with a new network-enabled version of that on the way, we'd suggest hanging on a while longer before splashing out.
Edited by Charles Kloet