I know I can't be the only one with a HTPC hooked up to my LCD TV that is sitting there thinking that there has to be a way to get the same basic concept of a HTPC, but with much less involved to do what I really want with it, and that is to stream high quality movies from one PC to this one for a bit of added entertainment. My main gripe about the way the HTPC works, it is still a computer first and foremost and I have to point and click at what I want to run or search through my network to find what I want to watch, or maybe I am cleaning the house and I need some loud music going; you then have to again get to the desktop and initiate your favorite music player. For those like me who just want things to work with the press of a button or two, the HTPC is overkill for my home theater needs.
Media streaming boxes are nothing extremely new to the market, but I have not seen one such as this before. Actually, this is the first HD Media Player I have had the pleasure of using, and I have to say that this is the exact product to fill my wish list for my home theater needs. What I need is a low profile system that allows me to, through a simple menu, play any form of media I could want to play without having the reset the media to a specific format to enjoy it. If I have a Blu-ray ISO file, the latest in anime, or even lossless formats of music, this system has the ability to put it all at the touch of your fingers, or thumb if you work a remote that way.
HD Media systems put most of the convenience of a PC into a format not too far from Sony's offerings in the PS3. With the EM7280 we are looking at from Eminent, all you need is a 3.5" hard drive and a wired internet connection and we can get underway. So now your home entertainment can all be had in a product that isn't much bigger than a VHS video cassette. Of course, we are going to add yet another remote to the caddy, but who doesn't already have three or four remotes to control their system, or even a Harmony remote to control everything. One more remote control isn't going to stop me from enjoying exactly what I was looking for. For those in the same boat as me, maybe you will find Eminent's offerings to be right up your alley as well!
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The EM7280 comes with room for an internal 3.5" hard drive to use for storage with this system. There are versions with drives in place in one and two terabyte flavors if you don't have a drive handy already. This media player will stream video from any source on your network and has an app section with various external sources for podcasts and other various HD content. The same goes for audio; you can store it on the internal hard drive, stream it from a laptop or desktop, or even use some of the apps that bring you sources like Shoutcast radio SKY.fm, with many others. One feature not really described on Eminent's site or in the chart is the awesome ability of the NZBget option built into the EM7280. Logging in through a PC to do the initial setup is all the external support needed to get this functional. Once the setup is complete, the EM7280 is fully autonomous and no longer needs the PC to find, download, or play the .nzb files.
For those that are used to streaming media through the PS3 or something, the way the menu works and functionality of the HD Media device without a hard drive is very intuitive and easy to navigate. The included remote control along with the internal software running from the Realtek 1185DD C+ chipset that I read runs at 500MHz. That combined with the 1000Mbps inflow of media coming in via the network, or through the USB 3.0 port, transferring files will be done in no time at all. I could go through the entire audio and video codec list that will read without issue in the EM7280, it is much easier to say if you have the file type, this thing very likely is plug and play ready to deliver 1080p video, digital audio, or both without spending hours converting the files over first.
I'm sorry to say this, but it seems currently there is little interest for Eminent to bring these units to the US, at least any time in the near future. I was able to surf through Google.co.uk and found some pricing for the EM7280. In the low end, without a hard drive pre-installed, I am seeing pricing from £130; that's right around $200 USD for those not good at conversions. If you are looking into units with a 1TB or 2TB hard drive packed inside, be prepared to spend upwards of £240; that is $370 dollars in US funds just to put that into perspective. Since I had a hard drive on hand, the only investment I had to make was to hunt down a power converter so I can test this with a US power source. Of course, those on the other side of the pond won't have to do this, but for the Americans thinking about having one shipped over, keep that in mind.
The top of the EM7280 packaging shows you that there is not only an accessible helpdesk if you have issues, but there is a five year warranty with these as well. Under the image of the unit displaying a music collection there is a bar housing most of the features found in the EM7280.
The right side of the box gets into detail with a full list for specifications on the left side. The right half shows in detail the layout of the rear of the EM7280 and the placement of the SD card reader and USB 2.0 host port.
At the top of the rear panel there are again features listed in six languages describing the unit inside of the box. The bottom has a rendering of the "how"," what", "why", and the "what from" of how the HD Media system can drop right into your home and receive live streams from the internet, wired network access, and deliver it all to your TV in the living room.
This side contains information pertaining to the scope of delivery included with the actual HD unit. You will get all the cables, screws, instructions and even batteries for the remote to get this connected and underway right out of the box.
The front of the packaging is the same as the top, just that the text and spacing have been reduced to fit on a smaller location.
The Eminent EM7280 hdMEDIA RT3 HD Media Player
Out of the box the EM7280 inside is all black with an acrylic facing. On the front of the unit there is the Eminent name/logo and just above the remote control "eye" there is the model number also printed on with white paint. Across the top of the unit the Eminent name is pressed into the plastic top when it was molded.
Looking a bit closer at the top left corner of the unit, Eminent chose to show that the EM7280 definitely includes dts-HD, Dolby TRUEHD and uses HDMI for connectivity as one of the options.
The left half of the back of the unit has connectivity for the power adapter at the far left. Working my way closer, there is another USB 2.0 Host port, the USB 3.0 port for transferring data from a PC, the HDMI port, and the LAN port.
If HDMI just won't work for your needs, there is also the coaxial audio and video connections that can be made for outputting signals to various devices and TVs. For digital audio there is the Optical connection next to a pair of knockouts that are for wireless models and their antennas. On the far right there is a fan to keep things cool inside the unit and is always powered and isn't noisy at all.
Under the EM7280 there are four small rubber pads that are double sided taped to the unit for feet. The rest of the bottom is taken up but the removable panel with the sticker containing the model number, serial number and its compliances.
As the icon and arrows infer, when you install the hard drive, you need to remove these two screws and release this plate to gain access to the mounts and connections.
Once the plate is removed you use the four tabs raised off the panel to mount a 3.5" hard drive right to the inside of it. There is also a bit of ventilation added to give the fan a source of cooler air.
Just make sure the drive is aligned with the internal connections, and with the screws provided in the box, you can screw it into place and move on being a step or two away from enjoying what the EM7280 offers.
Looking inside the unit, you can see the Realtek processing chip, the Nanya memory for the system and the Hynix flash chip that holds the operating system. The cables on the left are standard SATA power and SATA cable connections that you plug into the hard drive. You can also see the USB 2.0 host and SD card ports on the side.
Hardware and Documentation
Eminent sends a quick start guide that is as multi-lingual as the packaging is. In these three panels of it there is the contents and connectivity covered on the first one, what it takes to set this up at home in the middle, and the recommendation to use the HDMI connection on the third panel.
On the reverse it goes step by step to show the LAN and power connections and where to make them. Then moves to using the remote to turn on the system, and how to get into the basic setup in the middle, while the right panel offers options for different methods of connectivity of this to either a receiver, or by using the Composite cables.
This sleek and well laid out remote is what comes with the EM7280 to perform all of the controls that this system offers. There is a pair of extra heavy duty AAA batteries included so you can get right into it once all the connections are made.
If you don't want to transfer files over a network connection, you can use the USB 3.0 cable provided to make faster transfers to the EM7280 directly from another PC. Also in the image is the included digital optical or TOSlink cable to deliver full digital audio to go with the 1080p video signal the EM7280 provides.
You will also find a 1.5 meter HDMI cable to connect the EM7280 to your HD TV or Monitor.
The power adapter sent with this unit is made for the EU market and there is a UK power adapter version of the EM7280 available. For me, I ran over to the local box store and got the basic universal power adapter and am ready to fire this up.
If you plan to use this with a device that doesn't have a HDMI connection, Eminent still offers a solution to get the audio and video signals out with these red, yellow and white composite cables. This cable will allow you to get video signal and stereo audio signal.
Inside of a little zip closed bag you will kind four screws for mounting the hard drives along with a plug to put into the digital optical cable port if you don't use the provided cable.
On this mini-disc you will find it includes a pdf version of the user manual. This is a bit more in depth than the guide we just looked at and offers more step by step instructions on setting up the torrent and NZBget applications.
The Software / OS
I was happy to see once I powered on the EM7280 it had the sites latest firmware already installed and it looks like things are ready to get under way. The main screen boots and you are greeted with this mini-menu to get you to your photos, movies, music, manager, setup, and the apps. The remote has a keypad with a center key to accept what is highlighted, so selecting which function to go to and verifying that action is very simple. At certain times in the menus there will be additional options of features to that section and they are displayed along with the button on the remote to make it function, accelerating the learning curve.
The setup menu is where most of the initial time is spent to be sure to take full advantage of what Eminent offers in this little unit. Under the system tab, you want to set it for your region, set the time, give it a name to see on the network and things like that. The Audio section gives setting options for different codec types and whether or not to enable them. The video section is exactly that, it allows you to set the resolution of the output along with a few other settings for video codecs. Under the network tab you can set the username and password to the local network, or even set up a file sharing network to limit the access. Under the misc. tab it is basically the software version running, the firmware installed and where to go for any help.
You would think putting in a used disc and booting the EM7280 might cause some issues, but even with a drive with Windows installed on it, it gave me no issues up to this point. This point is where I used the one step feature that Eminent added to format the installed drive as a storage device ready to accept any form of media you may want to play through this device. The drive I chose was a 320GB drive, and once I clicked on the Format button, it took all of 20-30 seconds for it to recalibrate the drive for use.
Getting on with some of what is offered outside of the streaming from your PC, the NZBget application that will download files from your favorite news group for you, you get into the included apps. Here Eminent offers things like YouTube, Picassa, Flickr, Sky.fm, and all sorts of others. There is even a buddy app where you can register and talk to other Eminent owners. These services are said to be added to and taken away without notice, so there may be some discrepancies from what you see here, to what may be available when you buy yours.
Simply put, if you can connect a VCR or DVD player to a TV, there is no reason to fear the EM7280. The toughest part of the installation consists of dealing with Phillip's head screws for the hard drive installation. Once everything was connected all of the basic functionality of the unit was just a few thumb presses on the remote away. I transferred a bunch of movies, music and images to the EM7280 over the USB 3.0 cable and via the 1000Mbps LAN connection. No complaints to be had on the speed of the USB 3.0 transfers or the 980Mbps max I saw over the LAN connection. There really wasn't anything to hinder you from bringing this unit home, unpacking it, and within fifteen to twenty minutes having digital audio and/or HD video playing through your home entertainment center.
The only issue I had was with the NZBget control panel. I logged in as instructed through my router via my laptop, and I got right into the basic page displayed. Where my issue started was in the configuration of the application; this is where you set your information into the unit to allow it to grab the download cue file, download it, store it, and be ready to play it. I contacted Eminent on this issue and was sent a link to a YouTube video and a link to where I could also gain more information. Once I watched the video, played around a bit and stopped using Chrome for IE, I was able to get in and get underway with accessing .nzb files. I do like that I don't even have to have the box connected to a PC, or have to transfer the files. You log in remotely via a PC or laptop, configure what you want, and the EM7280 handles the rest. Can you really ask for more?
Now, I realize that I don't have any other benchmark to compare this to, but all I can say is this is the perfect solution for my needs. With the advent of tablet PCs, they are almost as common as phones these days and users prefer not to surf the web on their TV, and I am the same way, so the lack of a browser isn't a big deal to me. What was a big deal was that I got a tiny little system that plays stored files, streams via the network, downloads torrents and even has a few of the major places one would go on the net to get streaming music, podcasts, or many other sources of standard and HD material. Considering I know how to install a hard drive, I would opt to get the version without a drive for the £130 price tag I was seeing. On the flip side, getting a 1TB drive installed for an additional £70 and a 2TB option for only £30 more than that, the pricing is really reasonable.
Even for those thinking a HTPC to do exactly what this offers really makes no sense unless a browser is a must on your TV. I know I can't even come close to building a solid HTPC unit capable of what this has for $200-300 USD where this unit is priced. It's a real shame these aren't available in the States, because the EU and UK buyers have something I know you wish you could get your hands on for your home theater!