Eg m31a review



Keywords: eg m31a review
Description: Essentially, this is just another first generation NMT. The manufacturer hasn't taken any risks and it doesn't really stand out from any of its competitors. That's not to say it doesn't do a very good job, which it does.

  • Connections (HDMI/composite/optical/coaxial) 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
  • Hard drive bay (2.5''/3.5'') no / no
  • WiFi Optional USB adapter / N+G - 300 Mbit/s
  • Ethernet 100 MB/s
  • DVB-T tuner no
  • Chip Sigma Designs SMP8635
  • Firmware NC - NC
  • SD/HD video entries NA / NA
  • Screen (type) no
  • DVD / Blu-Ray no / no
  • SDHC no
  • USB Host yes
  • Backlit remote no
  • Other NULL
  • Dimensions 148 x 116 x 47 mm

Egreat's EG-M34A is a first-generation Networked Media Tank, so it starts from the same base as the PopcornHour A-110 and uses the same interface.  That's great news as PopcornHour set a very high standard--but does Egreat bring anything new to the table, or is this just a clone of the A-110?

The main difference is the hardware in the media centre itself.  Here, there's no space for an internal hard drive, making the EG-M34A a simple multimedia gateway.  You'll need to plug it into an external device or connect it to your network to find some content.

There are several different ways of getting content onto the device. The simplest way is to connect an external hard drive or a USB key, using, well, a USB port.  There are two, but both are unfortunately at the back, meaning you'll have to pull the media centre out, turn it round and plug in the cable every time you want to use a new USB device.  It's not very useful and we would have preferred to have at least one USB port at the front.

The second option is to connect a 'bare' hard drive to the device.  There is a SATA port, and a hard drive power cable, allowing you to plug in a 2.5'' or 3.5'' hard drive of your choice.  It seems simple enough, but it's all a little bit DIY, especially given that leaving a hard drive sitting on top of your media centre isn't particularly stylish.

Next up is the remote control, which is also different to the one that comes with the A-110.  It's less polished and less comfortable to use, with the arrow keys too far down to be easy to use.

It uses an identical onscreen interface to other first generation NMT devices.  That means there's nothing over the top and everything works pretty quickly.  By default, you can't see a thumbnail preview of all of the photos in a folder, but that is a feature that's available in some of the radically different user interfaces designed by the very active NMT user community.

Speaking of the community, the most interesting project is without a doubt YAMJ.  It's a tool that allows you to create an interactive video jukebox, with information about every film and TV series you have on your device.  For every video, you can display the cover, a full synopsis and technical information.  The data is all downloaded automatically from the web, but you can also edit it manually if the DVD cover art doesn't suit you.  That's not the easiest thing in the world for a newcomer, but the support provided by the YAMJ community is incredibly effective.

As you'd expect, the chip powering all this is a Sigma Designs SMP8635, and although it's now no longer the most up-to-date choice, it still offers support for a very wide range of formats.

You can play video encoded as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 ASP (DivX, XviD), MPEG-4 AVC (H.264, x264, AVCHD) or VC-1 (WMV), and all of that in either standard or high definition.  24 Hz and 23.976 modes are available, and the list of supported container formats is also impressive, including AVI, DIVX, MOV, MKV, WMV, M2TS, MTS and ASF.

If you've backed up your DVD collection, you can access it as either a RIP or an ISO file and you'll still have access to the menus, subtitles and multiple audio tracks.  For Blu-ray discs, only M2TS RIP files are useable, and you lose both the menus and subtitles, but all of the audio tracks are still available.

For your music, you have a choice between AAC, WAV, WMA, FLA, OGG and MP3.  DTS and AC3 are both supported in one of two ways: you can either opt for a stereo downmix, in which the multi-channel audio is mixed down to a stereo signal for your TV's speakers, or a bitstream, in which the signal is passed on to an external amp which will then send the right signal to each speaker.

Subtitles are equally well provided-for, with support for SRT, SMI, SUB and SSA files, and subtitles inside the container formats listed above also work fine.  The EG-M34A can display JPG, BMP, PNG and GIF photos, and it takes around three seconds to skip from one photo to the next.

There's a complete range of connectivity options, including HDMI, composite and component video and optical audio.  There are two USB ports while an Ethernet 10/100 Mbps port allows you to join a network.  You can also add a USB WiFi dongle to join wireless networks.




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