Verbatim MediaStation Pro review

Price when reviewed

The “multimedia hard disk” is a niche market, but one that won’t go away. So it’s no great surprise to see this networkable 3.5in external hard disk, complete with remote control, in Verbatim’s new line-up of external drives.

Verbatim MediaStation Pro review

On closer inspection, however, it emerges that the MediaStation Pro isn’t really a new product. Rather than design its own media drive, Verbatim has elected to rebadge units produced by the South Korean manufacturer AL Tech, sold in other markets under the model number MG-350SHD. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach; but unfortunately this device comes from a peculiarly south east Asian school of design that values features far above usability.

In terms of capabilities, therefore, the MediaStation Pro is outstanding. It has admirably broad codec support, playing almost any sort of AVI or WMV file you throw at it at any resolution, including MS-MPEG4 and XviD files. It’ll decode VOBs copied directly from DVDs and even romps through video CDs in ISO format. In audio mode it’ll play MP3s, WAVs, WMA files and OGG, though it can’t handle FLAC, nor AAC – so if you’re locked into iTunes, you’re out of luck.

Its network connectivity is impressive too: it supports 802.11g wireless networking and 100Mb/s Ethernet – both at once if required. There’s no draft-n wireless, which would give more headroom to cope with poor reception, but we had no problems streaming 720p video wirelessly over a 54Mb/s connection, and even 1080p should be fine so long as you have good reception.

Naturally, the MediaStation Pro will play files directly from its onboard 500GB drive (simply plug it into a PC via USB to copy them across); and it’ll happily stream video and audio directly from any shared Windows volume that it can find on the network. It can also browse files via NFS and FTP, and will even act as a USB host, allowing you to play media files from another USB storage device. And if your own media collection is lacking, it’ll talk to Shoutcast and stream your customised internet radio station.

To complete the hat trick, it also offers a great range of media connections: two 3.5mm sockets at the rear connect with the supplied cables to composite and component video, and there’s also a separate S-video socket. The cherry on top is an HDMI socket, capable of conveying video at full 1080p resolution, along with co-axial and optical S/PDIF.

But in the face of all this attention lavished on features, the user interface has been tragically neglected. There’s no polite way to say this: the MediaStation Pro is a pig to use.

Problems start from the word go. The plasticky remote control has far too many buttons, many of which are ignored in most contexts (“menu”, for example, only works while playing media). General controls are inconsistent: sometimes you navigate menus by pressing left, right, up and down, while at other times “OK” and “stop” are the order of the day. The manual (provided in PDF form only) gives you very few clues to help you master the device, so you’re too often left at the mercy of obscure onscreen prompts. Our particular favourite was “press enter for input: press return for finish” – particularly helpful since there’s no button labelled either “enter” or “return” on the remote.

When it comes to using the MediaStation Pro, things get no easier. Navigating your media is a clunky process – unless you’re dealing with a very simple directory structure there’s a lot of tedious scrolling around. There’s a button marked “search”, but it does nothing in this mode.

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