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Mediagate MG-350HD review: Mediagate MG350HD

The Mediagate MG-350HD is an excellent all-in-one home media solution -- as long as you're not timid about installing a hard drive.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
5 min read

The Mediagate 350HD is a small form factor media centre -- although it's not running Microsoft's Windows Media Center OS -- that comes in the form of a very small PC case -- think Mac Mini turned on its side and you'd be close. If you're familiar with Mediagate's product lines, the MG-350HD is encased in essentially the same casing as the MG-35, although that unit omits the wireless network capability of the MG-350HD. The sides of the case bear an embossed Mediagate logo on one side and the vent for the unit's hard drive (more on this later) on the other side. The front of the case has a five-way navigation selector above buttons for power and simple playback, which themselves sit above the power, network and hard disc activity lights. It's an unobtrusively small unit (57mm by 150mm by 185mm) that could be tucked into just about any corner, although it also comes with a PS2-style stand if you want to proudly show off your funky tech toy.


Mediagate MG-350HD

The Good

Supports multiple file formats. Simple interface. Can stream media wirelessly. Can read direct from USB. Variety of video connections.

The Bad

No HDMI. Slow boot cycle. Fiddly wireless setup. Can't copy directly from USB drives. Ordinary remote.

The Bottom Line

The Mediagate MG-350HD is an excellent all-in-one home media solution -- as long as you're not timid about installing a hard drive.

The rear of the MG-350HD houses USB host/slave connectors, DVI, S-Video, composite and component video sockets as well as optical and standard stereo output sockets. There's also a single 10/100 Ethernet port and an antennae mount for wireless networking. A wireless antenna is provided with the MG-350HD, but the standard socket means you could install a different antenna if it was needed.

While the MG-350HD offers plenty of visual oomph in its main casing, the same can't be said for the unit's remote control, which is of an ordinary visual design at best. There's no backlighting, and the dual nature of some of the buttons can be more than a tad confusing at first.

The MG-350HD is primarily intended to be an entertainment hub for your video, music and picture files. The first challenge here is getting the files onto the unit; this can be done either via Ethernet or streamed via 802.11b wireless. The MG-350HD can also read media files directly off USB flash drives; our only caveat here is that the placement of the USB connector is quite near both the wireless antenna and DVI port, so some drives might find it a bit of a squeeze fitting in.

Once you've got your data over to the MG-350HD, there's the question of file type support. The MG-350HD natively supports MPG, MPEG, AVI, M2V, DAT, WM9 and VOB files -- so you could potentially dump entire unencoded DVDs onto the unit and they'd play back natively. There's also support inbuilt for a number of high-definition video formats, including HD MP2, MP4 and WMV9. Xvid is also supported, although GMC-encoded Xvid files won't play back. On the music side, MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis are supported, while the MG-350's picture capabilities encompass JPG, BMP, GIF and PNG files.

For a system that's highly dependant upon storage of media, there's one thing that you might find surprising about the Mediagate MG-350HD -- and that's the fact that the version distributed by Anyware comes sans any kind of hard drive. This is solidly a "roll it yourself" kind of solution; while that might give some consumers the willies, it's a great way for the technically adept to create a media centre with just the right amount of storage for their needs, whether that's a smaller 80GB drive, or a massive 1TB monster. The downside is, of course, that you'll have to factor in the cost of an additional hard drive into the overall cost of the unit itself -- or use an old drive if you've got one lying about. Our review sample came direct from distributors Anyware with a hard drive preinstalled, and it's not too hard to imagine resellers doing the same thing with sample units, so those afraid of internal PC tinkering shouldn't be too frightened by it.

The MG350-HD's interface is quite basic, and while that makes it easy to discern, it's not particularly pretty to look at, especially compared to the slick interfaces on similar-style units such as the Zensonic Z500. Still, it works and it doesn't take an advanced degree in hyperbolic topology to get it all to run, which is a good thing. Our test unit was touch slow to boot up, although it's unclear if that was a function of the test hard drive that we were supplied with, or just the unit itself.

We tested the MG-350HD with a variety of digital media streaming directly from a wireless network, from a wired network and from a number of USB flash and hard disk based devices. It's worth noting that the MG-350HD doesn't have the best visual interface for matters such as setting up wireless networking, and it took us some serious fiddling to get around the issue of encryption keys, as the unit uses an SMS-style key entry for password protection. Once we had wireless up and running, we had no complaints with the MG-350HD's performance, although clearly this is something that could vary quite widely depending on your wireless network quality. Wired connections were even better, as you'd expect. In either case, you'll find yourself facing a simple interface that lists your shared folders and allows you to simply browse them for the media you'd like to stream.

While we couldn't complain about playback quality from our selection of USB drives, we were somewhat annoyed by the fact that there's no simple way to copy files from a USB storage device direct to the MG-350HD. This is irksome primarily because the unit takes longer to decode and begin initial playback of files from USB devices than it does from either wireless/wired or its own hard drive.

The MG-350HD scores well with us for its good range of supported files and simple interface. Admittedly, you've got to factor in the cost of a hard drive if you want to store data on the unit itself, but given the asking price, which is still below that of most brand-name hard disk recorders -- and even most of the off-the-shelf lower brand alternatives -- we think it's a very good buy indeed.