I drew up this list of features and started looking around at the various media player options:
1. Must have component out
2. Must support large hard drives
3. I prefer the NTFS HDD format to support files greater than 4GB
4. Prefer USB2 for file transfer
5. Needs a remote
6. Would be handy if it could be used as a 'portable USB hard drive'
7. It would be useful to have USB host so peripherals such as a camera, USB memory and a DVD drive could be plugged straight in
8. Preferably a small size making it quite portable
9. Must be simple to operate
10. No DRM - thanks
11. And most importantly it must support the widest range of codecs possible.
I decided that I did not care about recording from TV, streaming media or internet. I considered XBMC but decided it was still a game machine so too big even though it is cool. I looked at MythTV but that still requires a PC and really I could be bothered with a PC. The Sky PVR didn't cut it and Apple TV was not quite there.
A search on Trademe revealed quite a range of HDD media players from a multitude of unknown manufacturers based in Korea and China. Trademe do not have a dedicated section for this sort of thing so they are normally found under computers > periperals > external storage > external hard drives. Even though these sorts of products are now considered main stream your local Dick Smith or Harvey Normans do not yet stock them. After a bit of research I found the Modix 3520 which is manufactured by DTS in Korea. I searched for the NZ distributor and found iWay computer. The Modix cost me $338.00 plus the hard drive. I opted for a Segate 320GB perpendicular which cost an additional $160.00. So all up I spent around $500.
The Modix is available in two colours black or white. I went for the black. The box arrived after a couple of days and the packaging is really nice. Inside the box is the Modix 3520, an NZ power supply, audio/video/USB cables, an Engrish manual and a nice padded carry bag. On the front panel the Modix has a back lit (really small) 128x128 backlit LCD that is supposed to be 'high resolution'. The LCD is practically useless as to read it you can't be more than 1cm away. There are LED's for power and HDD activity along with an array of fiddly buttons for play, stop, power, etc. Overall the Modix is well made and looks quite stylish.
The remote control is exceptionally busy with far too many buttons. I quickly realised that the remote was dangerous as funtion buttons like the one to change from PAL to NTSC is located right next to the power button. However the remote does have some good features like zoom and screen capture. I opted to program my universal remote with the standard Modix features and ditch the supplied remote.
The Modix is powered by a Sigma Designs EM8621L Digital Media Processor which is one powerful chip. The other main chip contender used in competing media players if from ESS. However the ESS chip is a lot more limited.
Fitting the hard drive was simple. All it took was the removal of 4 screws and both side covers which revealed a simple circuit board, with short HDD IDE and power cables. The HDD is securly screwed to the circuit board. There is also a small fan to aid cooling. Once the HDD was installed I plugged the Modix into my PC via USB and set about formatting the HDD into one large, NTFS partition. I then setup some folders like DVD, pictures, music and copied over some content.
I plugged the Modix into my TV and powered on. First thing the Modix reported was an HDD error. Powering it off and on again fixed the problem. I believe this is an issue related to the Segate perpendicular HDD rather than the Modix as an older 80GB IDE HDD worked just fine. Never mind, once you know about this issue you just have to remember to power on/off/on. The Modix presents a menu prompting for Audio, Video or pictures. This is peculiar because you have to be in the correct mode to play content. You can not just navigate to a folder and click on a media file. Once in video mode you can not (for example) swap to playing an MP3.
The Modix has a very basic GUI which allows you to perform some navigation but you can not cut and paste files to other folders or even delete a file. To perform these sorts of tasks the Modix needs to be plugged into a PC as a USB HDD. The GUI is basic but that also means it is simple. Modix spent a lot of time on their physical design but not a lot of time on the GUI which is a pity really.
Playing music is easy, you simply navigate to a music folder and press play. You can set random play but this will only play the music in the current folder. It will not play random tracks across your entire collection. If you have a lot of music files you need to decide the best way to organise them. I found that navigation is slow if your folder contains a lot of tracks because you can only navigate up and down. There is no jump to or search function.
Similar rules apply for pictures where you can only work within the current folder. You can however set your pictures onto slide show with some backing audio (MP3).
I have thrown quite a few different video types at the Modix and I am impressed with what it can play. If you are storing a DVD it can be a little annoying as it stores all the .vob files separately for that particular DVD so it does not really make sense when something is called scene_1_a.vob. However, a really cool feature is that the Modix will play an .iso. This means that you can convert your DVD to a single .iso file, which can be copied to the Modix and played so, your DVD ends up being a single file called mymovie.iso.
The Modix has a few video connection options. I use componant but it also has S-Video and composite. I haven't tried it but the Modix supposedly supports high definition up to 1080i. Audio output is stereo or 5.1ch if connected via SPDIF optical. There is also an optional FM transmitter available if you want to transmit sound without wires.
One thing that struck me about the Modix was the large amount of online support. In the last year alone there have been 10 firmware updates! This said to me that the manufacturer is good at fixing faults and adding new features. Some other media players I looked at had no firmware support or available upgrades. Luckily upgrading the firmware on the Modix is really easy, anyone could do it. Simply, copy across the file to the Modix, go to the setup menu, select 'Firmware Upgrade', navigate to the folder where you put the upgrade file, click on it and you are away. It doesn't get much easier.
I upgraded it to v.6.12.14 firmware, which is available from divxtech. This fixed a few bugs and added support for things like 120fps play back and long file names. Sometimes firmware upgrades do not go smoothly due to power failure or a corrupt file. Luckily the manufacturer has thought of this and they provide an .iso, which you burn to a CD. You then remove the hard drive and plug in an IDE CD-ROM drive, put in the CD, restart the Modix and a really old version of the firmware will be restored. This is a great feature as dead firmware can sometimes mean dead device.
Now I mentioned above that I wanted a media player that would support a wide variety of Codecs and Modix has the largest support I could find. In the video department Modix supports:
MPEG1: VCD (DAT, M1V, MPG, AVI)
MPEG2: DVD (ISO, IFO, VOB, M2V, MPG, AVI)
MPEG2-TS: (TS, TR, TRP)
MPEG4: XviD, DivX, Nero MP4 (MPG, AVI)
JPEG, PNG, BMP
The Modix has a USB host port which supports a 4 port USB hub. I purchased a small, slimline, USB DVD player which plugs into Modix for DVD play back. You cannot copy directly from a DVD to the Modix but having a small DVD player means I can throw out my old Philips DVD appliance or so I thought. I discovered that you couldn't switch between the internal HDD and the external DVD. This means that the DVD overrides the HDD which is a bit of a pain. To revert back to HDD the DVD needs to be removed and the Modix then needs to be powered off/on/off/on.
Overall I am quite happy with the Modix but the true test is my wife who is not that technical. I can report that so far the Modix is wife and family friendly. My wife uses it everyday and she is very comfortable with it. Sure, there are quirks but we have learnt to put up with them because of the convenience the Modix provides.
- Accepts an HDD up to 2TB in size
- Supports NTFS or FAT32
- Great codec support
- Support 5.1ch sound and high definition
- No DRM
- Easy to use
- USB host
- Nice design (it looks good)
- Firmware support
- Folders can be password protected
- Very portable
- USB HDD
- Plays .iso files
- Crap GUI
- The odd quirk (it is not very forgiving if a media file is slightly corrupt)
- Poor navigation
- No file management
- Reports an HDD error at first power on
- Poor random music play function
- No ability to switch between DVD or HDD source
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Comment by Mattnzl, on 18-May-2007 08:35
I settled on an xbox 1 with XBMC. Certainly not a pretty beast, but our tv cabinet has smoked glass so you can't see it.
The W.A.F (wife acceptance factor) with the xbox has been extremely high - she would now be really pissed if it wasn't there! Addresses a few of your cons too:
Great GUI, navigation, file management, ftp access for copying stuff over from pc & can switch seamlessly between hdd/dvd.
Biggest con is that out of the box, you can't turn it on with the remote. I recently added an XIR (http://www.xir.us/xireasy.aspx) which remedies this - now the family love it even more.
Comment by Saptha, on 18-May-2007 10:14
its a awesome product i fix one of those into my in house movie channel (CCTV) be4 i had a bad dreams with changing DVD's all the time.
Comment by TinyTim, on 25-May-2007 09:54
Jama this is a great review, and I have my eyes on one myself. Wife friendly is good and evacuating the lounge of DVDs and CDs has real appeal (our 3 y.o. used to like to polish the central heating vents with our CDs and I'm sure our 1 y.o. will do the same when she's ready). I also note Ascent has knocked a few dollars off the price, it's now $281 (Modix HD-3520B).
Question: have you got to the bottom of the Seagate problem yet? That range of disks seems to be the best all-round value. It would be a shame to settle for a more expensive disk with lower specs (like a smaller cache).
Comment by Michael, on 9-Jun-2007 05:57
I have owned one of these since they came out at the beginning of last year ( I also owned the previous model 3510).
I was using a 80GB Seagate drive in mine till recently - I swapped it out for a 320GB Seagate 16MB cache drive and haven't had any problems with it yet and it gets used pretty much every day.
The player occasionally crashes when playing some files (not as much as it used to on older firmware though and not enough to be a deal breaker)
Other than that it's a great unit, I play HD content on mine all the time without any problem.
I'm currently waiting for the new TViX HD M-4100SH to make its way over here - though it will be obscenely expensive so I'll probably wait till next year to get one.
I’m also keen to see if DTS will have a new product out that can compete with it by then.
Comment by Leck, on 9-Jun-2007 12:25
Did you ever consider the altech mediagate?
thats the 2.5" version, but it comes in 3.5"
If so, how come you went for the modix?
Be interested to hear your views......
Comment by Ken, on 22-Jun-2007 06:31
I have read nearly every review on the web, but if I could get an answer on this question it would really help with my purchase decision.
When you created an ISO from a DVD, does it upscale the output to 720p?
What I am trying to do is similar to the reviewer, eliminate disks. BUT, I want to also eliminate the need for a DVD player that upscales.
I've never really been able to understand the differences between the 2 Modix models (3510 vs 3529), other than the price.
Comment by Ken, on 28-Jun-2007 15:04
Thanks, I bought one of these and arrived today. This is the U.S. take, I can upscale an ISO to 720p !! But, the funny things I am quickly learning. Can't leave the USB plugged in, remote goes crazy even though it isn't hooked to my notebook computer. For the life of me, can't figure out why there was more support for surround sound out of the box. Did you order the SPDIF optical cable? I am just doing stereo out now. Is the car adapter worth it? I like the size so it could be in my car, but I don't know. The menu for the file explorer is terrible, recycle bin wants to show up. Hope you are still here reading this thread, I kind of like exploring this with you if you don't mind or I can do email. Anyway, I will try some other formats over the next few days - divx, mp4, etc.
Comment by t2g7th7b, on 27-Sep-2007 09:56
This is a great review. I was just looking for a similar device but couldn't decide which one to buy. I'm looking for a device with all the features mentioned here and the WiFi option. Does anyone tried to play files from a remote device using wireless connection, how is the experience? Thanks
Comment by Wiggly, on 12-Oct-2007 08:03
Good review. The ISO ability would definately be a bonus. I have had the Mediagate MG-35 and have since sold it and now use the Mediagate MG-350HD. It does not support ISO (or at least I have not tried it lately with recent firmware upgrades) but it does have many other features which might be of interest. It does away with having to select the media type you wish to play (which was also an issue with the MG-35), it has DVI, component, composite, & svideo output. Connection via Wireless, Ethernet, & USB is great although the NDAS access to the unit is not too speedy but is handy for doing file-management. If copying a lot of data across I connect it via USB and have a couple of Active USB extension leads for this purpose so I get my required 12 meters of USB cable distance (got sick of removing the power pack and MG across to computer and back again). It has no issues (I know of ) with BIG hard drives although I mainly use 320 & 400GB units (latest perpendicular models, Seagate & Western Digital) and I have purchased 6 of these units for friends now. For the money you paid ($500 odd) I would seriously suggest looking at the MG-350HD as it only seems to lack the ISO support yet gives quite a few other options which might appeal. Definately worth checking out. Cheers.
Comment by Wiggly, on 18-Oct-2007 06:05
As a small amendment to my last comment ...
The Mediagate MG-350HD DOES indeed play .ISO files, I just had to prove it the other day. It works really well.
Wireless playback (streaming) works fine, not as snappy as local HDD or attached USB device to FFW / REV but works well. I often play music this way and a couple of mini-movies. For main movie use I copy the file to the local HDD in the Mediagate.
Comment by old3eyes, on 19-Oct-2007 08:42
Just found this review. Interesting box.
Does the unit playback Hidef Divx, Xvid and MP4 files in Hidef??
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