ViewSonic VMP74 review
Media players are ten a penny these days. The attraction, though, is universal. Instead of having to plug your laptop into the TV every time you want to watch a YouTube video, a ripped DVD or play some music through your home cinema speakers, you could opt for something like ViewSonic’s VMP74.
As far as unassuming little black boxes go, the ViewSonic is pretty unremarkable. There’s no fancy design, just a glossy black cover with a ViewSonic logo at its centre. Look at the compact rear panel, however, and you’ll find all the usual suspects: HDMI, USB, optical S/PDIF, Ethernet and an eSATA port that doubles as a second USB port. A 3.5mm socket ferries analogue audio as well as composite video for use with older TVs.
Turn on the VMP74 for the first time and you’re liable to be underwhelmed. The icon-based menus look a touch basic when splashed on the big screen. It’s a far cry from the slick front-end of the Western Digital WDTV Live. Peer inside the ViewSonic’s tiny case, though, and you’ll find the same powerful Sigma Designs SMP8655AD chipset as used in Western Digital’s wunderkind.
Indeed, ignore the look of the menus and the VMP74 has enough features to make most of its rivals blush. Connecting to Samba and UPnP clients on a network is gloriously easy via the wired Ethernet connection and, neatly enough, certain USB wireless dongles are also supported if you need to access your media wirelessly.
A huge range of video and audio formats are supported as standard, and the VMP74 made light work of our suite of test files. Everything from AVI to MKV, and MP3 to FLAC played back with ease. Even our most demanding 1080p high-definition movie files played back smoothly. Movie buffs will be particularly glad to see that the VMP74 is capable of passing DTS True-HD streams to suitable Home Cinema receivers, as well as boasting DTS down-mixing capabilities.
ViewSonic is touting the VMP74 as more than just a bog-standard media player, though, and has added unique features such as a Flash 8-enabled web browser. Surfing the web with the supplied remote is clunky, the cursor dragging sluggishly across the page and then inexplicably pinging from link to link, but it’s usable with a little patience. Add a mouse to one of the USB ports, though, and it’s vastly easier.
Alongside the web browser, ViewSonic also provides an RSS feed reader, Live365 Internet radio streams and an excellent YouTube client. The killer addition, though, is the support for BBC’s iPlayer. We couldn’t use the iPlayer icon on the menu – we’ll have to wait for a forthcoming firmware update for that – but ViewSonic provided us with a web address that gave us access through the web browser. After adding the address to our Favourites list, we were able to access all of the BBC iPlayer content, save for BBC HD, through a simplified user interface, blown up especially for use on the big screen.
It might not have the cutely curved figure of Western Digital’s WDTV Live, nor its attractive, slick user interface, but for sheer versatility the VMP74 races ahead. Factor in the eagerness of the support team to provide regular firmware updates, and ViewSonic is to be congratulated in making a worthy addition to a crowded marketplace.
There is one serious issue, though, and that’s the price. At £119 exc VAT, the VMP74 is significantly pricier than Western Digital’s WDTV Live, and treads dangerously close to low-end Atom-based nettops, which, given a little tinkering with, could provide an even more versatile media-playing experience. For many, though, the VMP74 will provide a hassle-free solution to their media-playback woes, and for that feat alone it’s more than worthy of recommendation.
Software and OS support
|Operating system Windows 7 supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|
|Dimensions||130 x 100 x 30mm (WDH)|
Audio format support
|Other audio codec support||PCM, LPCM, DTS|
Video format support
|Other video codec support||ISO, VOB, IFO, ASF, TP, TS, M2TS, MOV, TRP|
Ports and communications
|UPnP media server?||yes|
|802.11 draft-n support||no|
|Wired adapter speed||100Mbits/sec|
|RCA (phono) outputs||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||1|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|