Viewsonic has recently taken a bold step into the media streamer market with its VMP74 HD digital media player, a superbly slimline rival to larger and more expensive alternatives that offers a range of modern features and functionality.
Capable of streaming HD video up to 1080p resolution via HDMI, the unassuming design also offers Composite and optical output and a choice of USB or eSATA ports for connecting external storage. The lack of controls on the exterior of the box means that everything is done via remote, though thankfully no corners have been cut here. The supplied full-sized model is well laid out and once you get to grips with the layout and various features available, is fairly intuitive to use.
The VMP74 connects to a wired network and sets itself up automatically, after which it is possible to view SAMBA or UPnP shared content on the big screen. Though the interface is rather basic, it does a good job of allowing you to filter and sort large collections, as well as offering thumbnail previews for photos. There’s a decent amount of control over media and format support is excellent, though we were rather disappointed by what can be a lengthy buffer time before playback starts. Quality is good though and the ability to create a background-music playlist and control it via a sub-menu when browsing other features is a welcome benefit.
Adding to the device’s versatility is access to online services such as Flickr, SHOUTCast, Live365 and YouTube, though in the case of the latter there’s no facility to skip back and forth through video and there are similar buffer delays that can become a little frustrating when browsing multiple clips. Viewsonic also claims to support BBC’s iPlayer, though this feature was listed as "coming soon" during our tests - we’ve heard that users can expect this to be up and running in June.
A built-in web browser offers access to the Internet, though this only includes Flash 8 support and earlier. Web pages are clear and easy to read and browse, and a quick zoom control enlarges smaller text for those who need it. Luckily, Viewsonic has addressed the common problem of entering text via a remote control by offering support for wireless keyboards and mice, which can be connected via the USB dongle supplied; in our tests this worked really well.
Our main issues with the VMP74 is that it does feel a little underpowered, which likely contributes to the lengthy buffer times and the fact that it’s occasionally a little unresponsive in executing commands. These factors aren’t serious enough to undermine the product though, and indeed you’re getting quite a lot for your money considering the range of support and online access available. There’s also no wireless built-in, though we’re told that adaptors that use the Ralink RT3070 chipset are compatible and will offer this functionality.
Despite a few relatively minor issues there’s plenty to like about the VMP74, which takes a no-nonsense approach while offering just enough in terms of flexibility and key features to be very enjoyable to use. Its slimline nature and attention to detail makes it a worthy alternative to rivals such as the impressive Western Digital WDTV.