- Can play files off a hard drive, USB stick or a network; small and portable; can double as an external hard drive
- Poor interface, doesn't play MP4 nor .mov files, remote control doesn't have alphanumeric characters, wireless setup was cumbersome
The best part about the Mediagate is its versatility. It can play files off a hard drive, a USB stick or off a network. The worst part is its interface and setup procedure, which took us a while to connect to our wireless network.
With the ability to play many video and audio formats through various sources, the latest version of the Mediagate media streamer is versatile and convenient. But it still has a few problems with its interface that could frustrate many users, especially while setting it up.
The Mediagate is essentially a hard drive enclosure with video out ports and networking facilities, but it doesn't require a hard drive to be installed in order to stream media to a TV. Its 802.11g wireless or wired 10/100 Ethernet networking connections can be used to stream media from a server. Furthermore, you can copy files from your PC or notebook to a USB key, and plug it into the Mediagate in order to play the files off it.
Installing a hard drive in the Mediagate also offers good portability. It means you'll be able to move the Mediagate from room to room, or take it to a friend's house, without having to rely on a network connection and a server. All you'd have to do is plug it into the TV and hit play.
A Serial ATA connection is present in the Mediagate, so you can install pretty much any new hard drive in it and without much difficulty. With a hard drive installed, the Mediagate can turn into an external storage device; simply attach it to your PC using the supplied USB cable and drag-and-drop files to it (you will have to use Windows' Disk Management console to initialise, partition and format the disk first if it's brand new).
All the relevant video output connections are present on the rear of the Mediagate; it has HDMI, component, S-Video and composite ports. For audio, you can use stereo output, or tap into its optical or coaxial digital output. With HDMI and component connections, the Mediagate is primed for use with high-definition displays, but its menu system looks shocking in full high definition. It has been designed for a standard-definition TV and looks blocky and undefined on bigger screens – for example, when you fire up an online audio stream it looks like it says it's "buttering" instead of buffering.
Its file support is limited. MP3s, .wav and .wma files played back without any problems, but it won't play copy-protected iTunes content. The unit played standard-definition DivX, XviD and VOB files, and high-definition DivX files, but the unit won't play MP4 files created by Quicktime, nor .mov files, which is inconvenient for a high-definition player.
We did have to fiddle with the aspect ratio and image size way too often to get the correct picture on our screen, which was tedious. Also note that if you play standard-definition files on a high-definition TV, the picture will look blocky and blotchy (even when using the component output), unless you sit very far back from the screen. On a standard-definition screen, most videos will look great, depending on the quality of the encoding.
Playback suffered from slightly sluggish starts, especially while loading files off a USB stick, and fast forwarding through files wasn't as fast as we were expecting. We also wish it was easier to set the aspect ratio, as we had to manually change the size and aspect of many videos. A dedicated button on the remote control for ratio changes would be welcomed.
Speaking of the remote, it doesn't have alphanumeric buttons, which makes it very hard to enter the pass-phrase for wireless network security. To enter a pass-phrase, you must use the arrow keys to cycle through numbers, punctuation characters and letters. Coupled with a sometimes sluggish menu interface (sometimes there would be a delay before the input from the remote control was processed), this is a very frustrating process.
Getting the Mediagate to recognise our wireless Internet connection was also painful. We had to go through three setup screens to ensure that the device was set to automatically acquire IP, DNS and gateway addresses. Eventually we were able to log on (using WPA-AES encryption, but it also supports TKIP) and streamed audio from some of the many services in its built-in library.
Overall, while it does have its problems, the Mediagate MG-450HD is useful and versatile, and it could (hopefully) get better with future firmware upgrades. We do wish its menu interface looked better on high-definition screens, and that its setup wasn't so tedious. Support for a wider range of file formats would also be welcomed. But, its range of outputs is impressive, as is its ability to play files from hard disk, USB stick and network sources.
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