Is there a streaming media box that does what I want?
November 25, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

MediaFilter: Does what I want exist? I want to stream media to my home theater, but...

I'm well aware of products from Roku Labs and Linksys that will start to fit my needs - but I can't seem to find exactly what I want. Creative's Soundblaster Wireless Music gets close - but only does music, and has received rather bad reviews [scroll down to USER reviews] as far as transmission quality and remote range goes.

"Do" Criteria:
- I want a box to stream music from one of my computers to my home stereo
- Videos would be a huge bonus, and considering a Roku Soundbridge is $199 - I'm thinking videos almost become necessary because of the high price point. It's somewhat negotiable though, as music is my main need.
- My living room is large, so the LCD screen and navigation must be huge and easy to use, or it must let me navigate the media via display on my TV

"Do not" Criteria:
- I do not have Windows XP Media Center Edition, so the "Media Center Extender" is out of the question for now.
- I do not want to spend the money building a silent "media center PC" - my entertainment center cabinet is already way too hot anyway, and I wouldn't feel comfortable adding a PC to the mix even if I had the time/$$. If someone has ideas for an affordable and relatively painless way to build a silent PC, I'm open to it, but I'm thinking that it's unlikely the price will be right.
- I really don't want to spend any more than $250-$300 if at all possible.

Is what I'm asking for totally ludicrous and impossible to find? I can't seem to find a "roundup" of these streaming media boxes anywhere.

I wish, with its video out, my iPod Photo could display its navigation on the TV screen allowing me to just control it with a remote... problem would be solved. Sadly, it will only display slideshows.
posted by twiggy to Computers & Internet (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Apologies - 1 more thing:

I have nearly 100GB of music, so the UI has to be really nice and good for navigating huge collections.
posted by twiggy at 8:40 AM on November 25, 2005

Is "wireless" a must?
posted by Kwantsar at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2005

Response by poster: Kwantsar: With my current config, it sort if is -- but what did you have in mind that's not wireless? I suppose I could run some Cat5 through the wall to the next room (where my router is) if it's worth it.
posted by twiggy at 8:56 AM on November 25, 2005

Modded XBox.
posted by cillit bang at 8:57 AM on November 25, 2005

I don't know of many video-out solutions in that price range, esp since you're looking for more of an appliance than a full PC... Some ideas:

- Have you looked at Roku's Photobridge HD?

- If you're willing to roll up your sleeves, you could probably build an Xbox Media Center within that price (screenshots) [OP: cillit just mentioned this]

- Try searching on "media adapters" to find other products

(I own a Squeezebox, which doesn't meet your critieria (no video out or video streaming), but I'm quite happy with it for music and Internet radio. I'm holding off for another year or two to build/buy an HTPC solution, with something like MythTV or perhaps even Windows MCE.)
posted by skyboy at 9:00 AM on November 25, 2005

I have an Onkyo NC-500, which goes for about $150-$200 used. Once I got it configured, it was great.

It is wired, and it doesn't play videos. But it's so well-built and intuitive to use, I suggest that you consider it. The built-in LCD is adequate, but it will also display on your TV.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:07 AM on November 25, 2005

• AirPort Express

"Buy several AirPort Express Base Stations and connect one to every stereo or set of powered speakers in your house — one to your stereo in your bedroom, one to your stereo in your living room and still another to a pair of powered speakers in your kitchen, for example. Its small size and affordability make it perfect for having more than one. Imagine being able to play your iTunes music on whichever speakers in your house you prefer at a given moment.

"Or if you already have a wireless network in place, you can use AirPort Express to add music to its wireless capabilities. If you have an AirPort Extreme Base Station set up in your home office, for example, there’s no need to scrap this setup and create a whole new one with an AirPort Express Base Station, your DSL or cable modem, printer and stereo all in one place. Simply connect AirPort Express to your stereo in your favorite music room and plug it into an electrical outlet — it wirelessly links to your existing network, letting you play your music in your room of choice without moving anything or connecting anything else."
posted by Rothko at 9:34 AM on November 25, 2005

Response by poster: Airport Express can only be controlled via iTunes, which is a huge negative for me. Thanks for the suggestion, though. Great price (it's on sale for about $98 now).
posted by twiggy at 9:38 AM on November 25, 2005

I have the Momitsu V880 N DVD player which does everything you're looking for and more. The price is around $400 US, but if you're in the market for the last DVD player you'll ever need (DIVX playback, upsampling to 1080i/720p, DVI output) it's worth a look.
posted by Gortuk at 9:40 AM on November 25, 2005

Maybe something like this? I have a Gateway Connected DVD player, which is basically the same thing, but I don't think Gateway makes them anymore.
posted by amarynth at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2005

The Windows-based J River Media Center has the concept of "Zones". That is, you can use multiple soundcard outputs from a central server and playback different media within each zone, each with their own preferences and EQs. It's pretty neat. It also does all that client-server stuff, and can remotely control streaming media hardware using uPNP. It even controls Tivos. You can remote automate it using IR or RF controllers, and integrate it with complex systems using something like Girder.
posted by meehawl at 10:11 AM on November 25, 2005

p.s. My online media collection is now 1.3 TB and MC manages the library quite well.
posted by meehawl at 10:12 AM on November 25, 2005

We are now using the Xbox 360 to stream music and videos and even photos from our PCs to the stereo in the living room. It is quite nice.
posted by nimsey lou at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2005

I'll second the modded XBox + XBMC (XBox Media Center). You can buy 'em pre-modded for a little less than $300 if you're not confident with a soldering iron and don't feel like slogging through the mountains of online install procedures.

It really is heaven. I still use the DirecTiVo for harvesting TV shows, but I use the XBox for *everything* else.
posted by LordSludge at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2005

Another vote for a modded xbox + XBMC. Xbox Media Center is really an amazing piece of software, and because it's open source, it plays almost any video format on earth with no DRM. I have my ethernet-out from the xbox hooked to a wireless g game adapter, which streams video flawlessly to my tv.

It sounds like the new xbox360 takes many of the best ideas from the hacker underground that produced XBMC, but MS crippled the new xbox with loads of DRM. Can anyone that owns one tell me if it plays divx, xvid, or other popular video codecs found online?
posted by mathowie at 10:41 AM on November 25, 2005

Can the xbox/XBMC setup use SMB/CIFS paths for file access? My mp3 and video collection is served by a samba share, not a windows-based pc, so installing any software to "serve" the media just won't work.
posted by aberrant at 11:15 AM on November 25, 2005

Response by poster: Considering the price of the modded xbox - the 360 is sounding attractive despite my total lack of desire to buy a microsoft gaming console...

I would like to hear more about how crippled it is... interesting indeed.
posted by twiggy at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2005

aberrant: Can the xbox/XBMC setup use SMB/CIFS paths for file access? My mp3 and video collection is served by a samba share

Yes. I have all my mp3s (30GB or so) on an SMB share -- a stand-alone Maxtor Shared Storage drive. The visualizations are awesome -- MilkDrop being my favorite. It uses ID3 tags, and can look 'em up for you, can rip audio CDs, etc., etc. Feel free to ask more here, or check out the feature list here for more detailed info.

Plays video files great, too, with excellent codec support. Also plays DVDs, isos, etc., with automagic IMDB lookups.

I almost never play games on it, but you can rip game DVDs (or download) to the harddrive if you're so inclined.
posted by LordSludge at 11:32 AM on November 25, 2005

I'll nth the modded xbox, but what I did was bypass the hardware modification and used a reversible softmod. Simple, free (aside from buying a game that's exploitable), and less risk of damaging the box itself. EBgames has MechAssault for $6 used, which will let you trigger the exploit - it won't be needed after that. A refurbished/used Xbox is about $120-140 depending on where you look.

I have mp3 and video on my server shared via SMB, and there are quite a few plugins at XMBCscripts for extra functionality - movie trailers, Flickr, XM radio online, weather, TV listings, etc. I think there's a bittorrent plugin somewhere as well.
posted by sysinfo at 12:55 PM on November 25, 2005

If you go the Xbox route, see the threads here, here, and here for modding info.
posted by sysinfo at 12:58 PM on November 25, 2005

Modded Xbox. Modded Xbox. Modded Xbox.
posted by Jairus at 12:58 PM on November 25, 2005

(The 360 does not play Divx/Xvid.)
posted by Jairus at 12:59 PM on November 25, 2005

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2005

I'll also add my vote in for a modified original xbox. The software is constantly being developed and updated, so bugs and issues are constantly ironed out. Plus there is a large user base now.
The xbox media center application is quite mature now and very stable.

I don't know what I'd do without it!

Also, you don't have to mod your box yourself. You can pay someone else to do the softmod for you. There are plenty of people around who'll do it. Just have a look in your local classifieds.

Good luck!
posted by snarkle at 4:31 PM on November 25, 2005

I have an El Gato EyeHome that works pretty well. Unfortunately it appears to be Mac-only, which is kind of dumb because the server software that runs on your computer is actually written in Java.
posted by kindall at 6:56 PM on November 25, 2005

How about the Slingbox?
posted by JPowers at 10:12 PM on November 25, 2005

How about a D-Link DSM-320?
I've had one for about a year and although the software that comes with it is adequate, i'd recommend buying Twonkyvision as your media server. The DSM-320 plays just about everything and if you do go with Twonkyvision anything not directly supported can be transcoded on the fly. looks to be around $150-175 these days and there also appears to be a newer version that incorporates a DVD player which is a bit pricier but looks to be easier to find. one final thought, the UI is not perfect but for the amount of things this device can do that's never been a big issue for me.
posted by skatz at 10:41 PM on November 25, 2005

Response by poster: I've looked into the whole modded xbox thing -- it's pretty darned expensive to get one of those! Maybe if I built it myself... hmm. eBay doesn't even have any for cheap...

I will take a closer look at the DSM-320 and the slingbox, but I think the slingbox is music only (which isn't a deal breaker, but if it's priced like the roku soundbridge is, it kind of makes it hard to buy)...
posted by twiggy at 12:11 AM on November 26, 2005

Response by poster: Err, correction regarding slingbox (I thought you meant Squeezebox when I replied): that's unfortunately not at all what I want.. because it is made to take stuff FROM my tv.. and send it TO my PC's... Which is a feature I'd love, but it doesn't appear to do the opposite -- send stuff from my PC to my home theater system (specifically my stereo, but also my TV)...

Am I wrong?
posted by twiggy at 12:23 AM on November 26, 2005

it's pretty darned expensive to get one of those!

Wha...?? You can get a refurbished X-BOX for $120. A modchip for another $60. A DVD remote for $20. That's all you need. I seriously, honestly, sincerely doubt that you can find anything coming close to the functionality of a modded X-BOX for $200.

Just for instance...
  • Built-in IMDB connector
  • Built-in Amazon album information (including cover art) connector
  • Support for subtitle files
  • Support for ALL media options (including OGG Vorbis, Matroska, FLAC, etc.)
  • Support for DVD VOB files
  • Built-in Visualizations
...and an open-ended plug-in architecture (using Python) to allow for literally dozens and dozens of enhanced features? (Apple Quicktime movie browser, WebRadio, GameTrailers, StupidVideos, XBMCLyrics, etc., etc., etc.)
Oh, and obviously
  • Play X-BOX games
  • ..."Upright" arcade games
  • ...Atari games
  • ...Nintendo games
  • ...Sega games
  • ...etc.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:51 AM on November 26, 2005

Something from the Philips Streamium range, perhaps? Amazon has the SL300i on sale for $189.99, and there's a CNET review and the Philips page for the product. It supports MP3, mp3Pro, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX 3, DivX 5, XviD and all the usual photo formats, and has wireless networking built in.
posted by chrismear at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2005

If you already have a PS2, Reality or the GameShark media player might do some of what you want, and would probably be cheaper than going out and stuffing an X-Box in with all your other equipment.
posted by Orb2069 at 6:46 AM on November 26, 2005

Really pretty tangential, but I've recently come into posession of an HP ew5000 digital media receiver, which out of the box does only music and photos. It cost far less than $100. I think it's going to be okay... though I've yet to hook it up. A friend says it's by far the cheapest method of delivering audio and photos wirelessly to a TV.

My self-absorbed question is: anyone know of a mod for this unit that would allow it to deliver video? I've heard it's just a linux in there, but haven't had any luck searching for mods.
posted by quacky at 9:53 AM on November 26, 2005

Quacky: list price for that HP EW5000 is $300. Where do you get it for "far less than $100"?
posted by aberrant at 10:10 AM on November 26, 2005

Response by poster: Civil_Disobedient: The problem is a wireless adapter -- it adds a minimum of $65 to the cost if I want to use 802.11g (which i'd prefer, because otherwise my wireless network becomes mixed, and from what I've read everything loses performance then).

However, I have a friend who is willing to sell me his (used) modded xbox with 40gb HD and 2 controllers (but not DVD remote) for $150. I believe I will take him up on it, buy the DVD remote, and maybe just drill a hole through my wall and wire up ethernet and skip the wireless thing to save some cash.

Before I decide for sure, I'm going to research some of the suggestions you have all posted.. I haven't looked at the Streamium line at all, for example...

Thank you all for your suggestions.. I really appreciate it!
posted by twiggy at 11:08 AM on November 26, 2005

The problem is a wireless adapter

Aah, yes, the built-in ethernet is of the hard-wired variety. That does have the potential to make things... trippy. Just FYI, wireless access points are about $45 on NewEgg. But point taken.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:46 AM on November 26, 2005

My friends and I all use the Buffalo Link Theater. Can be had for less than $300. No fan, no hard drive. Absolutely silent. Has built in 802.11g. Communicates with your PC to stream music and movies. Supports just about every format : divx, xid, mp3, ogg, etc. Integrates with itunes and Rhapsody. Has a wireless remote. Supports HD output. Optical sound output. Has a wireless remote, built in dvd player. Much easier than most streaming video products to use, much harder than most music streaming products to use. I have 2 of them myself. My social group has about another 10 or so between us. Male and female alike are all huge fans. I have gone the modded XBox and PS2 route, and find this to be much more like using a DVD player.
posted by ill3 at 12:01 PM on November 26, 2005

aberrant: well, I know this guy ...

It was an inside connection, who is no longer inside. Besides that, the box is no longer manufactured by HP, and came stamped "THE ORIGINAL HP PRODUCT WARRANTY IS VOID."

Sketchy, I know.
posted by quacky at 12:32 PM on November 26, 2005

ill3 -- No FLAC support, no dice. Does it at least support subtitle files?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:00 PM on November 26, 2005

I missed Twiggy's request for FLAC.

No FLAC support yet, but it's their todo list. They update the firmware alot. It does support the following subtitle files types :

MicroDVD, SubRip, Sub Station Alpha, Sami
posted by ill3 at 7:40 PM on November 26, 2005

The Play@TV does what you're looking for at around $200. A couple caveats though:

  • It transcodes video on-the-fly on the server machine. If you have an older machine, it may not be able to keep up.
  • Video playback will work over the wireless, but it may have to transcode the video to a lesser quality for the loser bandwidth.
  • I only spent 2 minutes looking, but I couldn't find it available online. Possibly discontinued?

  • posted by hootch at 9:43 PM on November 26, 2005

    That's pretty decent, then, ill3. As a no-effort alternative, it looks good.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:34 AM on November 27, 2005

    For the 10th time: Modded Xbox (can softmod, no soldering) with XBMC. Couldn't live without it.

    Plus I heard it even plays games.
    posted by gfroese at 11:06 AM on November 28, 2005

    I too will suggest the modded Xbox. Best choice for a media center I've ever found.

    However, right now I'm trying to get a WMCE/ Xbox 360 (my wife want's the TiVo effect) set up, but I know that's not what you want.

    Go Modded Xbox!!!
    posted by TrueVox at 2:35 PM on April 1, 2006

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