Reviews in this Group Test
How we test
Plus how we work out the ratings
We test network video players by attempting to play a diverse range of video files on each model to find out which has the widest format support. We also test music and photo support, and assess the overall user experience with each device, since format support isn’t the only consideration.
At the bottom of each review, you’ll find four ratings: Performance, Features & Design, Value for Money and Overall. We don’t pluck these out of the air; they’re calculated using a mixture of objective and subjective ratings.
The Performance score is a combination of each unit’s responsiveness to remote-control commands, its image quality and how many of our test files it was able to play. For the tests, we use a Sony VAIO notebook as the “server” PC. This runs Windows XP Media Center Edition, and we install Windows Media Player 11 so it has the latest version of Windows Media Connect.
We load the library with around 20GB of music, photos and videos, including standard and high-definition WMV files. The full list of test files is as follows: WMV, WMV-HD (720p), DivX (SD, AVI), XviD (SD, AVI), H.264, VOB, FLV, QuickTime (720p), QuickTime (SD). Naturally, not all these formats are supported by Windows Media Player, so we install the bundled media-server software for each device and check if any extra formats are supported, and whether performance is better or worse.
We connect the notebook to a D-Link DIR-655 wireless router using an Ethernet cable to ensure there are no bottlenecks, and connect each video streamer wirelessly to the router using WPA/WPA2 security.
We then try playing each type of video in turn to find out if it plays smoothly (both video and audio) or if it can’t be played at all. Our second test is to view a photo slideshow; we look at the transitions and general responsiveness. Finally, we play a few different music albums, and check whether tracks are listed in the correct order and whether album art is picked up correctly.
We repeat all these tests by accessing the files from a USB flash drive where devices have USB ports, again noting whether the videos stutter or don’t play at all.