Since I started to collect quite a big number of media streaming boxes, I decided to review them all. Today I will review the recently released Viewsonic VMP75 1080p Network Media Player, the latest Viewsonic entrance in the media streaming market and a direct competitor to the Western Digital WD TV Live Plus which I reviewed not too long ago. Let’s see how VMP75 stands in terms of features, functionality and reliability against its quite popular competitor. Due to time constraints, I’ll split this review in two parts. The first part will describe the unpacking, box content, remote, web clients supported and DLNA/network capability. The second part will concentrate on the video codec support. During the review, I will often refer to the WD TV Live Plus experience since I consider it the current standard in terms of streaming capabilities.
The box is very small and it contains audio/video cables (component but no HDMI), the main unit, a quite complex remote control and the power adapter. VMP75 is a little bit smaller than the WD TV Live Plus (which is also very tiny). The installation was very simple, just connect the network cable, the HDMI cable and of course, the power and you are in business.
2. Tech Specs
2.1 Video Codecs
- MPEG1 (AVI/MKV/TS/DAT/MPG/MPEG/VOB)
- MPEG2 (MKV/DAT/MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/IFO/TS/TP)/M2TS
- MPEG4 (AVI/MP4/MKV/MOV/WMV/ASF)
- DivX 3/4/5/6 Xvid (AVI/MKV/MP4/MOV)
- H.264/AVC (TS/AVI/MP4/MKV/MOV/FLV)/M2TS
- VC-1 (TS/AVI/ASF/WMV)/M2TS
- WMV9 (ASF/WMV)
2.1 Audio Codecs
MP3, MPEG Audio, Dolby Digital, DTS, WMA, WMA Pro, PCM, LPCM, FLAC, WAV, AAC, HE-AAC, OGG, MKA, VORBIS
JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF
SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA, IDX+SUB, IDX, AAS, TXT
- Ethernet & Wi Fi (dongle optional)
- HDMI, AV output, USB, USB+eSATA, SPDIF
Voltage Input 100 ~ 240V AC, 50/60Hz
(WxHxD) 5.2″ x 1.1″ x 4″ (132mm x 28mm x 101mm)
Weight: 0.49 .lb (220g)
3. Web Clients
With the notable exception of Pandora radio, Viewsonic VMP75 supports most of the modern Web streaming clients like Shoutcast Radio, Flickr, RSS Feeds, Netflix, YouTube, live365.com, etc.
Embedding web clients in a cheap media streaming box is certainly better that embedding them in an expensive TV – I had a really bad experience – last year, I paid $2000 for a new LG connected TV, model 60PS80. In a year since I purchased it, LG has not released even one software update, the Yahoo TV Widgets are the same since the TV was released, even if the main idea of the Yahoo TV Widget platform was extensibility…Since I cannot afford to buy a new $2000 TV just to have the software updated, I think the best way is to buy a TV for its native capabilities and leave the Web features out of it.
Viewsonic VMP75 uses the so called Netflix 2.0 interface (similar with the WD TV Live Plus unit), that not only allows you to access your Netflix Instant Queue, but also to browse the top categories, New Arrivals, Dramas, Comedy, etc. – better than expected, but the Netflix is extremely slow, as is the navigation. The navigation is even slower than the WD counterpart (which was nothing to write home about). Netflix HD streaming is of course supported.
Unlike WD TV Live Plus, VMP75 implements YouTube client as a Web browser function. As a result, the navigation is atrocious, both slow and ergonomically bad. Just try to use a mouse cursor using your remote control directional pad and you know what I mean. Even worse, the box response time is so bad, it is not even immediately clear if it accepted your command at all. I think a dedicated client for the YouTube is a way better approach. Using a Web browser with a remote control just doesn’t cut it. Another issue for the YouTube “client” is that I couldn’t find a way to select higher definition clips to play.
Fortunately while implementing the Shoutcast Radio client, the Viewsonic developers didn’t repeat the YouTube mistake and built a dedicated and quite easy to navigate client. The selection is quite large and the navigation is fast enough. Once you start a stream, it will play in the background even if you leave the Shoutcast menu and it will continue to play until you start a different stream (Netflix for example).
3.4 RSS Reader
The RSS Reader is fast and easy to navigate. You can also add feeds and update the existing ones. I just wish the default colors were different.
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Live365 is a service that offers over 6000 radio stations streamed by people, not broadcast companies. You can register on Live365′s website and add your presets that can be accessed on the VMP75 along with hundreds of other free stations. Live365 client implementation is similar with the Shoutcast client.
The Flickr Client is very similar with the WD TV Live Plus implementation – it works fairly well, you can display the most interesting pictures, most recent uploads, hot tags, etc. You can add your own albums (under My Contacts section) and you can also use the on-screen keyboard to search. By default, the pictures are not scaled, so they’ll show in the middle of your screen at low resolution. You’ll need to go to Settings and change how the pictures are displayed, including fitting to screen.
Note: You can input your user name, but not the password so you will only be able to see your public photos.
A DLNA client is critical in modern media streamers. If you have a home server running PlayOn, PS3 Media Server, TVersity (or any other DLNA server) you should be able to access the content via your Viewsonic VMP75. Should is a good choice of words since VMP75 critically lacks in this area. It does display the DLNA servers available on the network but it doesn’t play anything. Again, I have exactly the same setup used to test WD TV Live Plus and while the WD box works perfectly with both PS3 Media Server and PlayOn, VMP75 doesn’t work with either of them. You can browse the content on the PlayOn but no clips can be played. For the PS3 Media Server it is even worse as it doesn’t list any playable content.
3.8 Web Browser
I am not very sure if my experience with VMP75’s Web Browser is unique or not, but I wasn’t able to open any web pages. For each and every web address I tried, I always got the message: Alert – Unsupported Page. Very annoying as the box will display it several times in a row.
4. Windows Network Shares access
Well, this is where things are getting ridiculous. But let’s get into some details about my internal network architecture.
I am using a central storage server to feed my various HTPC units around the house, as well as my PS3, XBOX 360, VMP75 and WD TV Live Plus units. The server has around 10TB storage and is built around an AMD Quad Core, 8GB RAM and Windows Server 2008 configured in simple sharing mode. Beside the network shares from the server, I configured both mine and my wife notebooks (running Windows 7) to share the video/picture folders to Everyone on the network with no password and with Read Only access. On the Security tab for the network shares, the access is also available to Everyone. Well, let’s put it this way. Every available box capable of consuming media from any Windows Network share on any PC can access the media without any issues. While Viewsonic VMP75 can see the servers, it cannot browse them and it cannot see any actual share so I am not able to test this feature! VMP75 always displays the dreaded “No media files available”. I think the VMP75 Samba client implementation is obviously broken and I cannot believe Viewsonic released the box to the market with no testing at all.
The included remote is fairly complex, but hard to use. It has more buttons that a universal remote but the layout is not very ergonomic. I wish they had used a XBOX/Media Center style remote instead.
While VMP75 looked really good on Amazon’t product page, I cannot recommend buying it. Not with the navigation issues, DLNA client implementation issues and most important, with Windows Network access issues. While Viewsonic could release a new firmware that would take care of the problems, it is a good idea to wait and see if they will actually do it. If you need a media streamer now, you are better of buying the WD TV Live Plus unit.
Small, cheap, Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, Live365 and Shoutcast Radio support
Slow interface, non-dedicated YouTube client, imposible to access Windows network shares in simple sharing mode