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September 15, 2004

MediaMVP First Impressions

I finally had a chance to look at my new Hauppage MediaMVP last night and I found it had a lot of potential. Hauppauge has been a favorite for the build-your-own PVR crowd with their PVR250 and PVR350 capture cards, and if those cards are the solution to getting video into your PC, the MediaMVP can best be described as the solution to output your multimedia to your entertainment center.

I have a comparable device from Gateway called the Gateway Connected DVD Player which is a DVD player that also allows you to stream video, pictures, and audio from a PC to your television. I have a lot of content that I’ve encoded with XVID (MPEG4) to save on space, and I’ve had mixed results with MPEG4 on the Gateway Connected product.

One great thing about the MediaMVP is the price; I paid $89 at Amazon.com. Unlike the Gateway Connected, it doesn’t have a DVD player, but I found that streaming video, even in MPEG4 format, worked almost flawlessly. At times it got a little jerky, likely from the transcoding on my PC server that is fairly underpowered, but it was definitely viewable and the audio always kept up with the video.

This product has the easiest installation I’ve ever seen for technology of this genre. It literally took me 5 minutes to install the server software on my PC and select the content I wanted to serve up to my entertainment center. Then I plugged it in turned it on and it worked flawlessly right out of the box. As a side note, I used the latest beta release up on Hauppauge's support site. One drawback is the lack of wireless support, but if you have a cat5 connection to your living room, you won’t have any trouble getting the MediaMVP working.

The user interface on the MediaMVP is simple, but quite frankly, mediocre. It does what it needs to do, but there are no bells and whistles thrown in to make the interface elegant. One small feature that I like in Tivo that often is neglected in other products is the audio beep you get when you press a button on the remote. It sounds like a nit, but it really helps give users feedback that the unit received a button press. The MediaMVP doesn’t do this, and there are times that it takes a few seconds for the product to react and I caught myself clicking away madly trying to get the MediaMVP to understand my command.

The biggest reason I'm thrilled about this product is that it looks like the product can be extended by third party developers. This is something that I think Hauppage strategically understands given their success in the video capture card market and they will hopefully do the same with the MediaMVP. The rumor is that they are working on an SDK for the product, and already, developers are tinkering with it working with software products such as MythTV and GBPVR.

Out of the box, they open up their interface files for all to see. All the html files that the unit uses to provide an interface are there for the tweaking, and while I just took a superficial look at the code, it looks like someone familiar with html and javascript can probably do quite a bit of customization. The other sly thing they did was provide a remote control with 4 colored buttons that could easily be reassigned by third parties to augment the interface.

My hope is that the SDK will be freely available from their website. This would be a good catalyst for innovation and allow third parties to update a mediocre user interface into the best that the Internet can provide. It's remarkable how many open source developers there are constantly innovating and it would be a big win for user and company alike to have a simple standard interface to the television like the MediaMVP.

Out of the box, the MediaMVP does a good job for what it does. The user interface could be better and provide more functionality, but for the basics it gets the job done. What makes this product exciting is the potential that it will grow in new directions. From what I've seen so far, I think Hauppauge understands this and will make this a favorite for the open source crowd.

Posted on September 15, 2004

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