The Emtec Movie Cube P800 is the latest in a long line of Emtec products with a feature list that ticks all the right boxes. In practice though, it fails to deliver on most.
Physically, it's very small and silent and has a whole host of connectors – both analogue and digital. In our case we used HDMI with optical audio output. Unlike a standard set-top box, you'll also find USB ports, an SD card slot, an Ethernet port and a drop-in slot for the included external hard drive – in this case a 250GB drive that also has a USB port on it, so it doubles up as a portable drive.
First and foremost this is a set-top box, with a dual analogue/digital tuner. Once you have scanned for channels, you can quickly flick through them and have access to standard features. There is also an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) for seeing at a glance what programs are coming up. A one-button record will start recording the program you are watching for later use. If you need to pause, you simply press the time shift button and it'll keep recording in the background – perfect for mid-film pit-stops.
The P800 boasts scheduled recordings, but despite there being an EPG – there is no simple way of saying “record this”. Instead, you have an interface not far off a 1990s VCR, allowing you to select the channel, time and length of the recording – a real step backwards in functionality.
As well as the standard TV features, there is the “browser” - a clunky, slow interface reminiscent of an old DOS file manager - allowing you to move through the file system, one directory at a time, looking for music, pictures and videos. The delay between each folder is 1-2 seconds and gets quite frustrating, especially if you're collection is well organised into multiple sub-folders. Much like the rest of the interface there is a delay even when pressing buttons on the remote control, so moving down a list of items takes what seems like an eternity.
This user interface issues aside, it is technically quite capable. You can browse any USB hard drive (FAT32/NTFS formatted), USB Stick, SD Card or even standard Windows network shares. We had no problem playing our MP4, HD content and AVI files – but it unfortunately refused to play anything WMV. Music playback was fine and the streaming radio service was a nice touch. It supports several transition methods for viewing picture galleries too, but unfortunately, to access these settings you have to go all the way back to the main menu.
The device is based on a Realtek Linux system and there is a community of people hacking their boxes around to do more than it was originally designed for. A quick port scan of the device bought up a web server running with a test page on it, as well as telnet out of the box. Logging in via telnet this reviewer was both pleased and alarmed that “root” without a password was all that was needed to take complete control of the device at the terminal. From here, I could access any network share I had predefined – and even view the username/password used to access them. In some situations – this could be a major security issue.
The benefit to this however, is that in under 5 minutes we had the machine setup as a NAS box, something we're surprised it didn't do as standard. This allowed us to not only copy files across from Windows, but also play live TV across the network as we could access the stream caches directly.
The P800 is clunky, slow and feels like a kick-back from the late 90s. We can't help but look at some of the features the open-source MythTV system offers and feel that Emtec is missing a lot of opportunities. A web-interface for scheduling recordings would have been so simple to do – as would a scheduled recordings from inside the EPG itself. From a technical stand point, this isn't a bad device – but it suffers hugely when it comes to user interface – especially the file browser, where having more than 5 files on a drive makes for a frustrating experience.
The Emtec Movie Cube P800 is great on paper and appears to offer great value for money. The reality is that it is slow, poorly designed and incredibly frustrating to use. If you have Linux knowledge and are looking for a modding project, this might be of interest.
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