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QNAP raises bar in digital media players with the NMP1000

QNAP shows off the NMP1000 network multimedia player at CES 2010. It redefines the expectation in digital content players.

QNAP NMP1000 network multimedia player on demo at CES 2010. Dong Ngo/CNET

LAS VEGAS--It's almost old news now when a vendor introduces a new digital media player. Western Digital has the WD TV Live, Seagate has its FreeAgent Threater+, and LaCie has the LaCinema Mini HD. Many other vendors have a players, too. However, what QNAP showed off at CES 2010 still strikes us as completely new.

The company demoed the NMP1000 Network Multimedia player Thursday, and from what I saw, it is by far the most comprehensive and complete multimedia player yet.

The device is a marriage of a NAS server and a digital media player. That said, it has all the functions of a NAS server, such as those of the QNAP TS-239 Pro, and the capability to play back digital content, including music, photos, and videos, on a TV.

Like most digital content players, the NMP1000 supports virtually all audio and video codes on the market, including high-definition ones that require a license to implement such as MKV video and DTS sound. It supports resolutions up to 1080p via an HDMI 1.3 port; it also supports older TVs with composite connections.

The NMP1000 has a built-in hard drive that can accommodate a 3.5-inch SATA hard drive of any capacity. It also comes with two USB ports to support extra storage and USB devices such as printer or Wi-Fi dongles. In addition, it has a female USB port and an eSATA to connect to a computer and work as a mass storage device. This is a great extra in case you want to quickly move a large amount of data from a computer onto the device.

As a digital media player, when connected to a TV, the QNAP can be controlled via its full-size remote control and works very much like other recently announced digital media player with an easy-to-navigate menu and has the capability to play back content from its internal storage, other network computers, or the Internet.

As a NAS, the NMP1000 can also be the host for media content for you to play on other devices, or it can be the centralized data-print-backup server for networked computers. It's likely that it will have similar functionality as the TS-239 Pro, which is one of the most comprehensive NAS servers we have reviewed.

Richard Lee, president of QNAP, said the NMP1000's firmware is also upgradable to add more features. One of the features QNAP has been contemplating is the support for IPTV. However, even without that feature, the NMP1000 is the most complete multimedia player on the market when compared with others.

The NMP1000 will be available in March and is estimated to cost about $400 without storage. That's about the cost of a regular single-volume NAS server from the company.