I have been eyeing a Media Player for my LCD TV for a while now. Currently I make do with an Onida DVD-Player with HDMI and USB support . In a cinch, it’s my Acer Aspire 5745 Laptop with HDMI support. Both are less than ideal – The Onida player has a problem playing many XVid/Divx files and using the Laptop is a definite overkill.
I have been considering opting for a Western Digital Media Player (WDTV) among a field consisting of players from Iomega, Seagate & Asus. But their $100+ pricing makes me think more than twice. If only these were available in $50 range.
So the launch of Amkette Flash TV definitely caught my attention. At a list price of Rs. 2900 and selling price of Rs. 2000, the Amkette definitely fits the budget.
It promises to playback popular file formats such as MP3, XVid-AVI, MPG. Same as my DVD Player but probably more reliably. In addition, it handles RMVB (Real Media Video) files.
So when my hardware supplier informed me that the Amkette (Flash TV) & a competing product from Zebronics (ZEB MP1000) were available, I asked him to pick up the demo pieces so that I could review them.
- Both the players are small and light. In fact, the Amkette is tiny – a little larger than a match-box. The Zebronics is larger, about the size of a WiFi router. The tiny Amkette is definitely the better looking of both, but the Zebronic’s advantage are the buttons on top (no need for remote to operate device) and discreet connectors at back. Looks wise, the Amkette wins.
- Both devices use a 5V-2A adaptor. Such adaptors are also available in the market as iPod chargers. So in case of an adaptor burnout, the device will not be relegated to the junk heap.
- Both devices support direct playback of files from a USB Key/HDD. FAT32/NTFS file-systems are supported. Common formats such as XVid-AVI which are problematic on the Onida DVD player, played without an hitch on these players.
- While the Amkette costs Rs. 2000 and features Composite/Component Out via Dongle-cables, the Zebronics costs Rs. 2900 and features an HDMI out in addition to the Composite/Component sockets. Since the Zebronics is also available for Rs. 2000 on eBay, the Zebronics definitely wins here.
- The Remote controls of both devices are pretty identical; only the placement of buttons differ. Both are powered by AAA batteries. The Amkette requires the remote to operate, while the Zebronics also has controller buttons on the device itself. The remote controllers worked well from 6-8 feet distance but you have to point the remote straight at the devices.
- Both devices offer 4:3 mode and 16:9 mode. NTSC/PAL (interlaced/progressive) is user selectable. Unfortunately, the Zebronics did not auto-detect the Samsung Full-HD LCD (using HDMI) that we had connected. We ended up configuring it’s aspect ratio manually.
- Both devices seems to be made by the same OEM. The interface is virtually identical, save for the branding applied. Feature-set and playback performance are identical.
- For a product named ‘Flash’, the Amkette did not have support for ‘Flash’ videos. Videos downloaded from YouTube in FLV format (H.263 codec) just did not show up in the list. YouTube videos downloaded in MP4 format (H.263 codec) showed up in the list but refused to play, indicating lack of support for H.263/H.264 codecs. Since the Zebronics is identical in functionality, it played what the Amkette played and did not play what the Amkette did not.
- The players supported AC-3 codec. An XVid file containing 2-channel AC3 audio played just fine. Another XVid file containing 5-channel AC3 audio was down-sampled to 2-channel and output over the Stereo audio connectors. 5.1 channel audio is output over Coaxial connector and you must configure the device to output ‘RAW’ audio for your Receiver to decode the audio.
- The products barely get hot playing most videos. However, the Zebronics device seems to have holes/slots on top for heat evacuation. I wish the Amkette too had some vents. Cooling is passive – no fans are installed.
- Notable among file-format exception is the lack of support for MKV format, which is a very popular format now for Internet downloads. In essence – FLV, MKV file extensions are not supported. H.263, H.264, AVC1 codecs are not supported. RealMedia files are supported but it has been 10 years since I downloaded anything in that format.
- Both players claim 720p resolution, but are actually incapable of playing 720p videos (1280 x 720/1366 x 768 pixels aka HD Video). Full HD videos (1920 x 1088) are not supported. If the players are configured for 16:9 ratio, they simply generate a 720p video to display the Interface. In the default 4:3 mode on a 16:9 TV, the interface looks stretched. In 720p mode, videos are up-scaled to fill the screen. Due to the low-power/cheap processors used in the players, the up-scaling process results in the video appearing soft and jagged.
- JPEG images are supported and 8 MP images from my camera were displayed without lag in a slideshow mode. However the image/video zoom function is dumb. It appears that the device reads the JPEG images and down-scales them to display on the screen. When the image is zoomed, the image is not re-read, the down-scaled version is up-scaled, thus resulting in the zoomed image looking awfully jagged.
- The USB connector on the Amkette seems fragile and was broken on our test unit.
Will I buy this device for my home?
My answer is no. I am a fairly advanced user and this device just does not have the additional feature-set that I am looking for. Then again, perhaps my target budget is incorrect too. Devices available from WD / Seagate/ Iomega / Asus / NetGear / D-Link have all the functions I need at a 3x price point. NBOX Media Player (another chinese offering on eBay) also promises my desired features at a 2x price-point.
The Western Digital TV Mini is an identical player. It’s 50% more expensive (Rs. 3000) and features better build quality and an optical out for digital audio. I personally prefer the Coaxial Digital Audio over Optical. It’s way cheaper and better.
Should you buy this device?
- If you have been planning to buy a DVD Player with USB support, then buy this device instead.
- If you are the type of user whose file collection mostly comprises of XVid/Divx-AVIs and MP3s, then buy this device.
- If you don’t mind re-encoding your high-res MKV files so that your folks can enjoy a movie on without battling Microsoft Windows first, then go ahead and buy this device.
The rest of us shall wait till kingdom come for price of WDTV Live to drop to $50 levels.