Testing - Great Over Wired, Iffy Over Wireless

For me, the holy grail for this type of box is to be able to stream the full uncompressed video and audio from a Blu-ray movie. I have a vast DVD and a growing blu-ray collection as I imagine many home theater enthusiasts do. The amount of storage needed to house these movies cannot be found on a single 2.5” drive, nor on an external USB drive. With that in mind, I decided to look at files in a few different formats and bitrates to see what the maximum bitrate was I could play over each type of connection supported by the Patriot Box Office (Wirelss, Wired 10/100, USB and SATA).

I started by producing an .mkv of The Dark Knight including the unaltered VC-1 (a Microsoft developed WM9 derivative) movie and Dolby digital core audio only. I also made an .mkv of Zombieland containing only the untouched AVCHD video which is a high def H.264 encode and the DTS core audio. These will be my highest quality videos, weighing in with an average bitrate of around 26 Mbps. I now have two .mkv files containing the two most common Blu-ray video types and core audio types. From here, I encoded these into smaller files and tested to see where the video playback began to stutter based on connection type to the Patriot Box Office. During the encoding I used .avi, mpeg2, m2ts, and WM9 formats.

Before testing these files I also attempted playing back a small .m4v file from iTunes and a few .vob DVD rips, as well as music from my mp3 collection and looking at jpeg, .png, and .bmp files from my camera. All files types were streamed over wireless and played without difficulty. Even both my high end .mkv files and subsequent encodes were recognized and displayed on my TV. The Patriot Box Office did, as advertised, play back everything I threw at it, and with impressive picture quality, although not always without issues as I will discuss in the next section. Below is a picture of the full bitrate Dark Knight .mkv played off my external USB drive. Nice!

Over the wireless G connection I maxed out at an 8.5 Mbps file before the video playback began to stutter. It even stutters a slight bit during .vob playback of ripped DVDs. That's not the most encouraging result. I was only able to pass 30% of the bitrate needed to play back a full Blu-ray movie. Your mileage may vary depending on the state of your wireless network. In this case the Box Office was a mere 5 feet away from the D-Link DIR-825 access point.

As long as both my source PC and the Box Office were on wired ethernet I could play full bitrate Blu-ray on the Box Office over the network. However with my PC on wireless in the other room I noticed some stuttering. Given the high bitrates of most 1080p content you'll want to consider how robust your wireless setup is before relying on it for any sort of HD streaming.

Over a USB external HDD or an internal HDD all files played without stutter. I also tried playing back an .iso of The Dark Knight and was rewarded with seamless playback by the Box Office. Not that the .iso has a higher bitrate, it should be the same as the .mkv I made, I just wanted to ensure an .iso would be recognized for those who like their Blu-ray rips complete with all the extras. Switching the audio track during .iso playback with the remote to the True-HD track gave an Unknown Format message. But it was easy to switch between audio formats and subtitles with the included remote. That March firmware update adding hi-def audio support would add even more value to this device.

So this device will stream my music, videos, pictures and standard def movies over the network, as well as 720p encodes of Blu-rays for $100. It will even play the uncompressed Blu-ray movies if I put them on the device’s hard drive or on an external USB drive. What else could I want? What about the ever growing area of internet based media content you say? Is there any help there?

It does support a bittorrent client which allows you to download torrents to the local (internal) HDD of the Box Office only. You’ll have to add the seed via PC, similar to the function of NAS bittorrent solutions. It also supports UPnP, which can be used with programs like TVersity to stream content from Hulu or Youtube onto the Box Office, which is great. Again, you’ll need a PC to set up the media server. This whole process can take a bit of tweaking to get working, but it can be done. In testing out the UPnP it can take a bit of time for TVersity to prepare some of the Hulu queue files for playback, making watching internet based content feel quite sluggish.

Delving Deeper - Chipset & GUI Final Words
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  • VideoGrabber - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    I'm confused. The review says,

    > As long as both my source PC and the Box Office were on wired ethernet I could play _full bitrate Blu-ray on the Box Office over the network_. <

    Then, in two other spots, it refers to a need to transcode the BR material down to 720p, to be able to play over the network. So, which is it? Thanks.
    Reply
  • BCarr - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    Just recieved mine, won't play my itunes .m4v, which is disappointing, because I bought mostly for that reason. I guess I'll buy the overpriced AppleTV that does less. Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    Strange. I tried playing a video that came with one of my albums off itunes also in the .m4v format and it played fine. It will of course, not play protected files. The digital copy of Zombieland for example is protected and only plays on my PC and synced iPhone, when I try to play the file over the box office I do get the "invalid format". But it should play any unprotected .m4v videos you have. Reply
  • Bloodx - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    HDI Dune player is the only streamer that works. Unless you can play ISO bluray rips with the real menus and hd bitstreming audio the box is useless. Reply
  • Sanctusx2 - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    The device sounds interesting, particularly after the promised firmware updates hit. I had one lingering question though: it was tested it with mkvs, but I'd like to know if it handles mkvs/avis with subtitles included(either externally or embedded). I've always found this to be a challenge with media playing devices and even transcoders like TVersity/Windows Media Sharing usually choke, necessitating a manual encode to embed the subtitles. Reply
  • QChronoD - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Alan, I loved your write up.

    Are there any plans for putting together a roundup of different boxes? I've never been able to find a place that has a good comparison of which ones are better for people who primarily want to serve their own media.

    OT, When you're using My Movies in WMC, do you ever have the extra info (cast, synopsis, etc) not show up for random movies? Some of my movies it's blank, and I can't figure out how to fix it w/o deleting and rescanning everything.
    Reply
  • scoobymich - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I'd recommend this site for reviews of media players / NMT's. It has a ton of information and a great community. I hope it helps you with your decision!

    http://www.mpcclub.com">http://www.mpcclub.com

    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - link

    I'd also be interested in seeing a budget-htpc article... I think you guys started some mini-itx articles but never finished.

    I know there are lots of little pc's around $300 that can do 1080p h.264 playback and use very little power.

    thanks
    Reply
  • ajlueke - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    I am interested in doing a media box roundup myself. As for budget HTPCs, d you have a model from a vendor as an example? Is $300 the limit of what would be consider "budget"? I have a HTPC as my main source of TV and movies, but it is anything but budget as I play a fair amount of games as well. Let me know which sorts of products you are most interested in. Reply
  • scboley - Monday, March 01, 2010 - link

    This one is the most impressive looking I've found yet based on the same realtek chipset. I have a patriot and love it but this menu and net support on this version blows the patriots functions away and hopefully the next firmware from patriot will address and add these functions. http://www.xtreamerusa.net/index.html">http://www.xtreamerusa.net/index.html Reply

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