It seems it's become compulsory for media streamers to have ludicrous names. Even our favourite streaming devices, the Popcorn Hour models, have pretty stupid monikers. But nothing prepared us for the idiocy of the name Xtreamer iXtreamer. Nevertheless, if this media streamer and dock for the iPod, iPhone and iPad offers decent performance, we'll forgive its preposterous appellation. It's available now for around £160 from Advanced MP3 Players and other vendors.
The iXtreamer can accommodate an iPad, so it's not the smallest media player we've seen. In terms of width and depth, but not height, it's slightly larger than a Mac mini.
The device isn't exactly pretty either. That's unfortunate because it has a number of features that attract the eye. Among them is the sliding cover that conceals the dock functionality.
The iXtreamer's menu system is also fairly unique, featuring some sort of sea vessel, for a reason that's not entirely clear. The whole thing puts us in mind of that jumper with three wolves on that rose to prominence some time ago because of customer comments on Amazon.
If you want to store video on the iXtreamer itself, you can add in a full-size desktop hard drive. We've added hard drives to quite a few media streamers in our time, but it's rarely been simpler than it was with the iXtreamer. We just plonked the drive into a hole on the right-hand side and that was it. The whole process took about 3 seconds and then the drive showed up in the list of available sources.
We're told that this streamer can accommodate up to a 3TB drive, which is plenty of storage space for a media player of this type. It could replace a network-attached storage device if you wanted to save on money and electricity, although we doubt its performance and reliability are a match for a dedicated NAS.
The iXtreamer is slightly different to most streamers we've looked at so far. It can be used as a dock for any of Apple's iDevices, including the iPad. This means you can access photos, video and music stored on your Apple hardware.
Accessing such content is achieved through a special, customised menu. We don't think Steve Jobs would approve of the menu's layout and design, but, functionally, it's fine and it won't waste your time. We used a fourth-generation iPod touch to test the dock, and were pleased with the results.
Sometimes we have to work hard to make media streamers see our networked PCs. That wasn't the case with the iXtreamer. A quick browse of our corporate network and we located the media machine. Within a few minutes, we were able to stream video without any problems at all.
The iXtreamer is happy to play ISOs of DVDs, which is good news if you keep an ISO library of your favourite DVDs for faster access. It's also more than happy to play formats like Xvid and high-definition MPEG-4 in MKV files. If this doesn't mean much to you, all you really need to know is that this device is capable of playing pretty much any video you care to send its way.
The company responsible for this device also sells a reasonably low-cost NAS, which this streamer is directly compatible with. It's called the eTRAYz, which, remarkably, is actually a worse name than iXtreamer. You don't need an eTRAYz to use the iXtreamer, but the company does mention it rather often, so we thought it might be worth explaining what it is, because its moniker gives nothing away.
The iXtreamer provides users with a single method of connecting it to their home network -- an Ethernet socket on the rear. You can also buy an optional 802.11n wireless adaptor, although we're not sure if it's worth it -- Wi-Fi is still a patchy technology when it comes to streaming high-bit-rate video.
The image quality delivered by the iXtreamer depends on what you feed it. Overall, we found it decent but not amazing.
Downloaded shows like Doctor Who are watchable, but the quality is only really comparable with what you'd expect from BBC iPlayer -- that is, not incredible by any means. Podcasts all vary, with some HD shows looking good but, again, we were never blown away. We also found playback to be less smooth than we'd like. That said, these problems are really down to the quality of this type of video content, rather than the machine itself.
Downloaded video from various Internet sources in a 720p format looked okay, but we found colours to be a tad inaccurate, and detail seemed to be lacking slightly. Other test files we tried, however, yielded better results. In the end, we concluded this little device is a capable performer.
Audio quality is also good, with the device happily downsampling 5.1- or 7.1-channel audio to stereo. It can pass untouched audio out via HDMI too, which will be a great boon to people with external AV receivers.
We can't really fault the Xtreamer iXtreamer in terms of functionality, even if it is a hideous munter with a preposterous name. We were impressed by its flexibility and, as such, are happy to recommend this device to anyone looking for a versatile media streamer. It won't suit anyone who's seeking high-end video quality, but it's a solid performer and a device we'd be happy to use.
Edited by Charles Kloet