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Apple Evesham releases iPlayer

First INQpression Evesham iPlayer HD Media Centre
Mon Dec 18 2006, 16:25
EVESHAM MADE journalists happy with the iplayer, by having review units ready for us at the end of the press launch. Normally after a product launch the hacks are given the details about when the newly launched kit will be available for review, and then we return to our respective lairs and begin pestering the PR and marketing sorts to send us the kit. An auspicious sign indeed.

The iplayer comes in a small densely packed box, containing the iplayer itself along with the remote, RF cable, Scart cable, a long network cable, power cable, quick start instruction sheet and the CD containing the user manual in PDF format and Microsoft's Windows Media Connect software. The lack of HDMI cable is somewhat perplexing given that the high definition output is a major draw-card for this device.

The unit itself comes housed in fairly stylish silver and gray plastic. On the front you'll find three small LED's that indicate power, and data activity. On one side is a slot for a Smartcard and a USB 2.0 socket to allow you connect a portable data source or a USB keyboard. The back of the iplayer is bristling with plugs and sockets, along with the power socket and network port there are two Scart plugs, an HDMI jack RF in and out and an optical SP/DIF socket. For solitary listening the iplayer also has a standard 3.5mm headphone socket at the back.

The remote is an interesting design, it feels comfortable to hold, but does make stacking impossible. Unfortunately the keys feel kind of flimsy, particularly the navigational pad in the middle. Also the lack of any backlighting means you'll be fumbling around if you like watching your TV in low light.

Setting up the iplayer was pretty straight forward, although there are a fair few cables to contend with so I would advise getting a few cable ties or twisties to help keep it neat and tidy. When firing up the unit for the first time you'll have to enter a Parental Control password and then you can set the unit scan for and set up available channels.

While the iplayer is doing its scan would be a good time to wander over to your PC and install Media Player Connect. This software allows you to share predefined folders to stream media over your network and to your TV.

Navigating around does take some getting used to, but mainly because there are so many features available on the iplayer. There is TV, which includes Freeview and Top-up TV as well as the rapidly approaching ipTV services. Then there is the windows media connect functionality which allows you stream movies, music and photos from your PC or network storage device. There is also internet, email and podcast functionality. The iplayer also comes equipped with an 80GB hard drive to cater for timeslip and recording. The huge number of different features means at first I often found myself in the wrong menu or jumping back to the TV when I didn't want to, but after a few days of use it all became pretty familiar.

Recording is about as easy as it get, you can either just skim through the electronic program guide and then just hit the record button for any program you want to record, or you can go into the recording menu to and set up recordings from there, including repeat recordings. When the hard drive fills up there you can just delete old recordings or simply export to a bigger drive on the network. Bear in mind that because there is only one tuner built into the box if something is being recorded the box needs to be on and stay on that channel. You can however use most of the other functions while recording, but things do seem to be a bit slower.

Accessing PCs that are running the connect software, on the network is as simple as selecting them from the menu, then up comes the folders you've chosen to share, and from those you just click the file you want to stream across and it will load in the relevant player. Evesham have included support for the majority of media codecs, so you should find most of the files you have squirreled away will work just fine.

The video output is impressive, especially on a good quality HDTV. Evesham have even thrown in some funky trickery that upscales a standard definition picture to 1080i, which means that even your regular TV looks a bit better. Of course the market for HD content is still very limited, but it coming and Evesham are marketing this device as 'futureproof', in the hopes of catching early adopters as more and more HD content is becoming available.

The internet access is of course something of a pain to use, although this stems more from the differences between a PC and multimedia unit and is no real fault of the designers, there is after all only so many plug-ins and formats that you can pre-install, and unless you use a keyboard entering long web addresses means typing it in SMS style with the keyboard. To make it easier, if you have any regular websites you like to visit you can save them as channels to make coming back to them easier. Having internet, email and internet radio and podcasts available on yout TV is all well and good, but I have to wonder how much people will use it given that one of the iplayers main draws is that it can stream media from your PC, meaning you have a much more comfortable internet experience available there.

In Short
As with any device the iplayer is not perfect, mainly because perfect is very subjective, but if you're looking for a digital video recorder, with freeview, and you would like to be able to stream stuff from your PC to your lounge, and especially if you have a high-def TV, then the iplayer from Evesham is well worth the £300 price tag. It would be nice if the remote was a bit sturdier and the keys were backlit, it would also be nice if one of the Scart plugs could be used for input so you could record from other video sources such as cable TV or something similar, but these are very minor irritations and are easily overwhelmed by the pluses.

What really intrigues us about the iplayer is how they managed to nab the name away from Apple. ?


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