The home theatre system is going to become an integral part of any home computer network soon. It’s a growing tendency. In the past decade when everyone used VHS cassettes (if we look back we’ll see that the quality of the films recorded on cassettes of this type was awful around here) playing them back on bulky TV-sets with cathode-ray tube, computers were not considered at all as means of playing back video. And “home theatres” of those days were nothing but “analog”.
Now the situation has improved a bit. An average DVD player costs $40-80, a DVD disk can be purchased for $15-30. It’s not that hard to find disks of a good quality while linking up a computer is one of the most topical issues today. It costs a lot but the owner of this system gets a very versatile player at their disposal which is easy to update both programmatically and hardwarily. The only disadvantage is that it will cost you $300-600 depending on its configuration.
There’s another disadvantage – the HTPC takes a lot of place, though it depends on the size of its case. But you don’t really need a big case. Moreover, you can purchase a very compact nettop for $200-300 and watch movies using it. And it’s not the most optimal variant – you can get the desired result even for less money.
There are so-called network media players. It’s something like a network attached storage (NAS) which is capable of decoding different formats and displaying them on the TV. It’s a very handy thing – its software is “customized” for remote control and you may turn out to have a couple of hard disks “at hand” which you can easily replenish through a network. Apart from that, you can reach for the hard disks installed on the computers through the same network. And to make you completely happy - the most functional devices can autonomously download all the necessary stuff from the internet through BitTorrent. In this case even the most functional of them cost less than $250.
But ... have you already guessed? That’s it! It’s not an ultimate limit. And the “limit” – here it is: we remove local data storage, connection with the internet ability, Wi-Fi and even cut off NAS functions. What is left? That’s it, chip-decoder, a couple of video outputs for connecting to a TV, Ethernet connector and USB. Apacer AL460, a network media player, appears to be this “miracle”. Its ultimate goal is to transmit video/audio stream to the TV. Do you think it costs a lot? From our point of view, it’s not so much – about $100. But can there be any problems with the device? We have been investigating it.
AL460 – is not the first experience of creating media players by Apacer. There was another model before it which was up-to-date a couple of years ago. It handled many formats but HD video was beyond its power. However much depended on bit rate and resolution but it won’t be able to cope with modern formats. AL460 is to solve the problem. Let’s have a look at its specifications.
As we have already mentioned, the data source for AL460 is external storage devices such as USB flash, card-readers or HDD. It’s a pity that storages attached to the device are not accessible through a local network but NAS functions are cut off intentionally in order to reduce the cost even more. Through the network the player will see everything that is accessible through CIFS/SMB protocol or, in other words, Windows shares for general use or resources accessible through Samba server for Linux and Mac OS X.
It’s very good that NTFS file system is supported. It would be great if there was compatibility with Linux systems which are often used on hard disks installed in NAS but it’s not critical.
We are going to tell about ports a bit later. We are impressed by the list of the formats it supports. With the help of AL460 you can watch virtually anything that you come across on the Internet. Why virtually? Because Blu-ray images are not supported. You can try and play back all the files from the folder in succession one after another but the player doesn’t always cope with its correct sorting. There shouldn’t be any other problems though. Anyway, the most popular films are coded with MPEG-4 codec now. And here you can come across both compact files with low resolution and FullHD compressed stuff with Blu-ray. But there are no problems with DVD either even with ISO images. We have checked it out ourselves – everything functions smoothly, even DVD menu.
Video is displayed with the resolution of up to 1920x1080 pixels and it speaks for itself. It is enough for any modern film. Besides you can view any photos as long as pictures with the definition of more than 15 MP are supported. You can come across a higher resolution only in professional DSLRs but they are few. As for audio, the bit rate of 320 Kbit/s is supported and we are going to tell about peculiarities of its decoding below.
All this becomes possible due to chip-decoder produced by Realtek, accurate model of which we have failed to reveal. Apart from this AL460 has main memory of 128 MBytes and flash memory of 256 MBytes. It goes without saying that flash memory is not accessible for the user and is only used for command system running.
The device weighs very little. We can even say that it’s virtually weightless. And its outer dimensions are not that big – you can put AL460 anywhere – it won’t take much room.