Freecom MediaPlayer XS review

Price when reviewed

We’ve reviewed plenty of hard disk-based media players and streamers in recent months, but Freecom’s take on the genre is something out of the ordinary. Instead of clumping media facilities and storage together in one box, the Media Player XS splits the two apart.

The idea is simple: plug the XS directly into your television, connect a hard disk or other USB storage medium to the USB host socket on the front, and – hey presto – you should be able to play video and music, and view photo slideshows on your TV screen.

In the box is an infrared remote control for navigating the simple onscreen menu system, a composite AV cable and Scart adapter for connecting the box to your display of choice, and even an infrared extender so you can stash it away in a cupboard somewhere out of sight.

It’s a very flexible way of tackling the problem of getting video from PC to television. It doesn’t restrict you to one capacity or storage type and, when you need more space for your video, there’s no need to buy another expensive, media-specific drive or to transfer videos off to free up space.

We liked the fact that it supports both FAT32 and NTFS file systems, and in our tests it supplied enough juice for us to run a portable 2.5in external hard disk without the need to plug in an extra power source. It’s portable too ??” about the size of a pack of cards, and extremely light at 70g.

In practice, however, it’s not all sweet wine and roses for the Media Player XS. The first problem is that output is limited to composite video; there’s no sign of S-Video let alone component or HDMI. This restricts video to standard definition 720 x 576 resolution or below ??” but output still looked pretty good on our 24in test screen, with no sign of pixellation, jaggies or de-interlacing artifacts.

Also though the video format support covers several popular codecs, including MPEG-1, 2 and 4, Xvid and DivX, there’s no support for the increasingly popular H.264 or, surprisingly, Microsoft WMV files. Audio support is similarly patchy, with MP3, WMA and WAV files supported, but not AAC.

Plextor’s MediaX PX-MPM320U doesn’t have the same flexibility, but is compatible with a more rounded range of codecs, allowing you to play backed up DVD files as you would on a standard DVD player. And the fact that Plextor’s drive adds component video output and 720p upscaling to the mix puts the Freecom firmly in the shade.

That’s not to say the Freecom Media Player XS is a poor product. In fact if you’ve got a few old external hard disks hanging around and you want to be able to play back PC based video on your TV, then it’s an inexpensive way of going about it. Just bear in mind that it is limited.

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