Wireless Video Streaming with the Mvix MX-760HD

by Kevin Hemenway

In response to Wireless Video Streaming from OS X to your TV?, fearless reader Scott noted the Mvix MX-760HD as offered by ThinkGeek. Out of all the possibilities posted, this seemed the most relevant: wireless, internal hard drive (which is entirely optional), USB connectivity, DivX and XviD playback, and composite video connectoids (along with others). After talking with Rich Knitter, MvixUSA's Director of Marketing, he agreed to send me a review unit with the hope that I also get step-by-step sharing instructions for (the as-yet-tested) OS X.

Welp, I gotta tell ya, I'm pretty happy with this little thing.

Hardware setup was easy - the unit comes with a stand (which seemed a little loose until I found the center sweet spot), USB and composite video cables, a driver CD (which you won't ever need), remote control (a block of plastic with a central keypad similar to, but not as good as, a TiVo), the requisite power cables, and a 5dBi antenna. While the unit does support HD and progressive scan and all those other high-falutin' feel-goods, you'll need to supply your own cables. For this review, I've only used composite video because that's all I (care to, at the moment) have.

I first tested without installing a hard drive (the not-included but provided Maxtor 300GB is one of a few sizes available if you order directly from MvixUSA.com) because my focus was wireless streaming - I wanted my bevy of disks upstairs to combine into one voltronic horde of video bliss. Thus, after a quick load screen (in which DivX was misspelt as "Dvix"), I hopped into the Setup menu and started tweaking the network options. The UI isn't ugly (see the online PDF manual for some examples), though it does seem a bit syrupy at times, but not enough to be annoying.

What was annoying is its sole support for WEP as a wireless encryption standard. I don't look forward to reconfiguring all my game consoles, laptops, and handhelds away from the WPA I had been using before. After tweaking my network (as provided by a D-Link DGL-4300), the MX-760HD connected to it just fine, without having to manually specify IPs, routers, DNS, etc.

That left me with just nailing down the actual file sharing. First (tested under 10.4.8), enable OS X's Samba server by clicking "Windows Sharing" under Apple Menu > System Preferences... > Sharing. OS X will force you to choose which user account can use Windows Sharing but this won't actually matter to the MX-760HD - it doesn't send authentication so we'll need to specifically customize our server to allow guests. We'll also want to tweak exactly what directories we're sharing, as opposed to the enabled user's entire Home directory (note: even if that is what you want, you'll still need to configure it as "guests ok", something you'll probably want to reconsider for security reasons).





There are two different ways to configure the Samba server: by editing the /etc/smb.conf manually or by using a helper application like the donationware SharePoints. SharePoints has an advantage because it will display the read/write permissions of the directories you're sharing: "everyone" must have "read" access for the files to be shared properly. Before we continue, you may want to disable the default "share the entire home directory" option under SharePoint's SMB Properties > Home Directories. This is entirely optional.

To share a directory of movies, make sure you're on the "Normal Shares" tab, create a "Share Name" and "Browse..." to the right Directory. You'll also want to set the "Windows (SMB) Sharing" dropdown to "Shared (+)". Finally, click the magical circle to the right of "Show File System Properties". This drawer will offers an "Allow Windows Guests", which we'll need to enable for anything we want the MX-760HD to access. Under "Permissions", make sure "Everyone" can "r" (read) the directory, otherwise it'll will appear empty when browsed (note: this WILL change the literal permissions on disk - it's not just a Samba thing). If you haven't protected your wireless network with encryption (even if it's simply WEP, as required here), I'd heartily suggest you do so now. You'll be asked for your OS X Administrator password to effect any changes you make here. Your final screen should look something like:



Head back over to the MX-760HD and have it "Refresh" its Movie file listing. Should everything go as smoothly as it did for me, they'll be a bit of a pause as it scans (and caches) the share, but your movie files should be displayed; anything not a recognized movie file is not shown. One of the things I continue to appreciate is the long file name listings: you can actually see more than six or eight characters, and pausing on any one title will scroll the rest of the title in place. I don't understand why they didn't use this same interface for the "Recent Items" screen, which is utterly useless in its current icon-based incarnation. Choose what you'd like to watch, and depending on the size of the video, it'll start streaming to you wirelessly in 10 to 30 seconds. Awesome.

Installation of the optional hard drive is also easy: no tools are required though I did have some troubles getting the single case screw back into place, and it took a few tries of concerted jiggling to align it just right. Once the hard drive is in and connected via USB 2.0 to your Mac, format it with Disk Utility as an "MS-DOS File System" and you'll be good to go. Mounting the MX-760HD's hard drive does require its power adapter which can cause a bit of frustration when it's entangled into the mass of cables behind your entertainment center. Having a laptop in the living room is one solution; a separate internal drive enclosure for drive swapping is another. MvixUSA recently reported that a firmware update will allow mounting over the network as a NAS/NDAS device, but no ETA on this support has been provided.

Of the 20 or so ancient but much-cherished Britney Spears music videos I threw at it, all showed signs of bad cropping - some had a healthy 20 to 30 pixel column missing from the left hand side. Modern day movie rips encoded at 16:9 receive this same chopping on the right side too. This is disheartening but my previous standby, a Philips DVP-642, also suffered the same problem. Digital video software really needs take these files, figure out what dimensions they are at runtime, then display them shrunk to fit into the TV screen with a surrounding border. Either that, or a Zoom Out (nearly everything has Zoom In, why not Out? Cheap solution!) Some folks have suggested this may be due to my use of composite cables, and I cheerful admit my ignorance and luddism.

Codec and playback support was strong: after testing the first few minutes of nearly 150 movies stored on the hard drive, only two or three gave the unit problems. QPEL support is missing, nor can the unit handle the MS-MPEG4v2 codec which all the DAP's MST3K videos are ripped as, though they admit this is a problem:

However, MS-MPEG4v2 is not without it's faults, the most obvious of which being that it is a proprietary codec that is no longer in development and is not likely to make its way into settop boxes or consumer electronics anytime soon. While technically a derivative of the MPEG-4 standard, MS-MPEG4v2 does not produce an ISO compliant video stream. What that means from a practical cross-platform standpoint is that when MPEG-4 capable DVD players do start becoming available (or the rumored MPEG-4 based HD-DVD spec), getting MS-MPEG4v2 files to play on them will be a non-trivial task necessitating at the very least transcoding to an ISO compliant codec and the quality loss associated.


There are no current plans to support these codecs in a future firmware upgrade.

I did not test the Photo or Music playing capabilities to any persnickety degree, but the smallest increment of time for image slideshows is three seconds, which turns into roughly six or seven if you're wirelessly streaming 2 MB digital camera files. It'd be nice if the unit could start caching and requesting early so that a more smoother and faster slideshow transition is possible. There does seem to be some issues with the "Recent Items" function in relation to photos or missing media or perhaps amount of media: after looking at roughly 50 images of a 500 image directory, I deleted that share leaving me with just movies to be watched. However, browsing through the media list to get to the "Setup" menu caused a freeze on the "Photo" item, which showed "Recent Items" that no longer exist. I don't know the cause, but it was about 90 seconds before I regained control. There doesn't appear to be any way to delete the "Recent Items" so, at the moment, I'm just avoiding that menu item entirely and used the "Setup" button on the remote. A day later, I am unable to reproduce this particular freeze.

Apparent "freezes" like this happened a little more often than I would like, and it always seemed related to the unit's rebuilding of a file list that I know has changed. After adding 100 GBs of movies to one directory, a new access to the hard drive (which I've coquettishly named "Innards") caused the unit to appear unresponsive for nearly six minutes, nearly two minutes after I gave up clicking the "Down" arrow to check to see if it was working. Another down arrow finally teased a response, but my original request, to browse the contents of Innards, never happened. Accessing it again gave the lickety-split response I was hoping for and, save for these initial first requests after file modifications, access to large directories continues without incident. With that said, I dare not throw my 22,000 track MP3 library at it anytime soon (nor would I ever, as my sole desire is video watching).

I was unable to test subtitle support heavily, but there do seem to be problems with .sub and .idx files. Though it claims support for them, a Mvix help document suggests converting them to .srt instead; I was unable to get the files I had working (nor did I try to convert them). Another .srt file loaded with no problems, but the subtitles were in Italian so I am unable to confirm if they matched up with the video properly. There is support for timeshifting the subtitles backwards or forwards, and you can also change their position on screen. Finally, the color of the lettering can be changed from the default white to some others, but the font has black borders which should prevent any one color from being washed out by the current scene.

While there are problems here and there with the UI, I'm quite happy to have the MX-760HD as a central part of my video entertainment: I no longer intend to burn DVD-Rs anymore, and the wireless support removes the need for any other moving parts. Hopefully, future firmware updates will hammer out the remaining bugs, but until then, I'm quite happy to route around them: the advantages and other qualities make this combination of hard drive, streaming, and video too powerful to ignore.

18 Comments

Riot Nrrrd™
2006-12-11 12:52:55
You should've tested DVICO's TViX M-5000U instead (or their upcoming, smaller form-factor equivalent model, the M-4000P), as it


(a) Provides support for FTP'ing files into the hard drive from over the network, unlike the MViX - who wants to deal with formatting a USB 2.0 drive as FAT32, meaning you can't put any files on it that are larger than 2 GB?


(b) Supports using NFS as the share protocol with much better performance than using SMB/Samba


(c) Has much more reliable and robust firmware, according to the feedback on the two products as posted to AVS Forum


There is also another product, the Pixel Magic Systems MB100/MB200, that is rumored to be adding support for HFS+ filesystems (in both the internal drive as well as any connected USB 2.0 drive) in the next firmware release. Either of these two products would be a better match for a Mac user than the MViX MX-760HD, IMO.

Morbus Iff
2006-12-11 13:43:25
Perhaps you missed the title of both posts: the thing I care most about is wireless streaming, not USB or LAN connectivity. Neither of the products you mention offer that and thus, regardless of their quality, is irrelevant for my needs.
Morbus Iff
2006-12-11 14:23:07
For what it's worth, I never even thought to check other file systems - I was only mimicking in OS X land what their Win XP instructions suggested. Since the actual OS of the Mvix is ucLinux, I'd be a bit surprised if it didn't support a Disk Utility created Unix filesystem. Next time I have a spare drive hanging around, I'll be sure to test it (not that I personally need more than 2GB files, but I can see how some would be concerned of this potential limitation).
Shayna
2006-12-11 20:46:29
Yeah! sure RIOT.


however, I have been an ardent Mvix fan for over an year now. Have used 2 of their older models and now just recd. this new MX760HD. All I can say is that it continues to pleasantly suprise me with the quality and reliability of the hardware. I have tested the Dvico's older 3000U model... and it is incomparable to Mvix's firmware support and compatibility. Mvix UI is much better in all aspects. File decoding reliability and the DVD-CSS license is a big plus for me.

Riot Nrrrd™
2006-12-12 02:34:17
I see, said the blind man.


I was not aware that wireless was your primary interest. Personally I find that a bit curious, as my own experience trying to stream over wireless has convinced me that anything other than an internal drive in one of these Network Media Players is fraught with headaches and stuttering.


BTW, while I know you are referring to built-in wireless support, given that the products I mentioned have LAN ports, I consider using my AirPort Express to stream wirelessly between my Mac in the back of my house to my living room in the front (via running a short CAT5 cable between the NMP unit and the AirPort Express) to be doing "Wireless Video Streaming".


In fact, I'm doing that right now with a JVC/AVeL player that I'm testing out - and with which I've found bandwidth issues and hesitation/stuttering when trying to do wireless streaming that to me are unacceptable (and I'm not even talking high-def content, although that is definitely a prime interest of mine - one look at the current BBC HD "Planet Earth" series in 1440x1080p will convince you of the utility of playback capability for these types of files, which oh, btw, are larger than 2 GB).


As for you, Shayna, I don't think comparing your new MX-760HD with a 2-generations-old TViX is very fair, do you? (All reports indicate that the current TViX M-5000U firmware is also quite robust and mature, btw.)


I'm not saying the MViX is a bad product; I haven't tested it personally. And I think a built-in wireless antenna/capability is a nice feature to have. But this is a Mac DevCenter Blog site, and somehow I don't see a product that can only support FAT32 or NTFS internal drives (yes Kevin, I know that's not your primary interest) as being terribly Mac-friendly.


Also, given that tests with the other players have shown that NFS protocol support is more efficient and is faster/better than using SMB/Samba, I would think this would be of interest to anyone who has a Mac - it would improve your wireless performance. The MViX folks would do well to emulate their DVICO TViX/PMS MB100 & MB200 brethren in this regard with support for NFS.


I have no association with any of these companies, btw - but I am about to purchase one of these products, so I have been doing research into all of them. And Mac-friendliness is definitely a big consideration for me.

Morbus Iff
2006-12-12 04:07:49
As I've said, being Linux underneath, there's quite a strong chance that the unit will support a Linux formatted drive - I just never thought to test it (and, whilst I do have an 80GB drive hanging around that I could test, I'm in no rush to do so). Regardless, suggesting that FAT32 makes it "not Mac friendly" is relatively ridiculous - save for the 2GB file limit, there is very little difference (I'm ignoring permissions because they're irrelevant when it comes to our goals) when it comes to the simplest question: does it store files that both the Mvix and Mac can read? Have I missed something, perhaps?
dingosatemybaby
2006-12-13 06:03:49
I followed the first article you did on this topic, and am thankful you posted this review. I had spent a ridiculous amount of time following all the user suggested links, reviewing product specs, eliminating devices that didnt fit my needs for one reason or another...


I am in the exact situation you are in as far as what you have vs what your ideal setup is. Looks like I'm off to buy one of these units...thanks for posting this up.

Justin
2006-12-27 05:53:50
I'm a bit surprised that both Mvix and Tvix have a product called the "5000U". Is there a reason? Does that stand for something? Sure, one is the MV-5000U and one is the M-5000U, but seems amazingly similar unless those are the same company.


Anyway, Thanks for the review. Your one line about firmware updates to support NAS/NDAS to mount the drive are what I was reading for. My dream situation would be to install a 200-500GB drive and be able to transfer ISO's to the thing in batches, and then play them locally to avoid any stutters. But as of right now, it sounds like with this thing you have to hook up a wire (USB) to get new stuff on the HD. :(


Please let us know if you ever do see NAS support working! Also, does anyone know if the Mvix MV-5000U supports mounting/NAS over wired ethernet?


Thanks,
Justin

dingosatemybaby
2007-01-09 04:40:57
I bought this unit after reading the article here and LOVE it. It works great. I bought an external Iomega 250gb disk which came as FAT32 and it works fine in my 100% mac environment.


BEWARE - the 1.0.3 firmware update they just released has a known bug (according to support) that mangles filenames on external disks like the one I mention above. Everything is truncated into the 8.3 format, so "Torchwood 1x01.avi" became something like "Torchw~1.avi". Blech. I am told by support that they will fix this in the next release, hopefully soon.

dingosatemybaby
2007-01-09 04:42:48
Oh, and according to the support department, the "NAS" support discussed here for remotely mounting the unit over the network will take the form of FTP since its "more stable". I think they mean "easier" ;)
Morbus Iff
2007-01-09 04:49:30
dingosatemybaby: thanks for the report back. I hadn't gotten around to installing 1.0.3, but I'll hold off on it for now.

2007-01-16 06:29:08
http://www.mvixusa.com/support/index.php?_m=downloads&_a=viewdownload&downloaditemid=16


New Firmware!
1.03 -> 1.09

chamkaur
2007-01-25 01:10:55
Hi there,


Does anyone know if the Mvix MX 760HD allows the copying of files from the PC to the harddisk wirelessly?


I managed to set it up quite easily for the shared folders on my pc and the Mvix can 'see' my shared folders of my PC but my PC cant seem to find the device on the network, although when i ping the address of the mvix, i get a reply.

Morbus Iff
2007-01-25 04:10:43
No, it can't do that yet, but supposedly it will in a future firmware update.
Paul
2007-02-27 18:28:16
Can you save files back on MIVX HD back via the network ?


The manual says you need to turn off windows firewall to stream files from your PC.. is this right?
Paul

KJH
2007-04-04 22:49:08
Another good source for Mvix info (or at least for arguing/discussing) is MvixCommunity.com.
Cheers!
Aukcje
2007-05-13 10:14:35
Very helpful and interest article. Can I translate this and insert on my site in Poland?
Greetings
Mattt Potter
2007-07-17 23:10:10
I followed your instructions exactly how you described above and everything seemed to be going smoothly. I went over to my MIVX and hit refresh, and sure enough a new icon appeared with my share name "MOVIESTEST" next to it....but when I click it...a window pops up that says,


ACESS ERROR
ACESS DENY


and then an OK button. Gonna fiddle around with it a bit more. But don't really see what else I could do differently as I am sure I did everything as you said. Any ideas?


Thanks for the step by step article though. Been wanting to figure out how to do this for awhile. You know the other thing that I was curious about doing with my new MIVX, (and hopefully you know if you can and how you can) is how to FTP to it and upload files. As of now I am just connecting it to my computer with the USB every-time I want to add something. Obviously if the streaming thing works smooth then I won't even have to do this. But curious if there is a way to do it. I had my original XBOX modded just for the very purpose of playing AVIS and such on my TV and it was great, because I would ftp to it and upload AVIS, BIN and CUE files etc and watch them on my TV. But when the XBOX 360 came out. My old XBOX went "good bye" due to lack of space, and I have been kicking myself ever since. That is of course till I discovered the MIVX! So hopefully you can answer my question on the FTP thing, and save this lazy lazy man from having to disconnect, connect, disconnect, connect my mivx from my computer to my tv over and over again.


Thanks a ton!


Mattt Potter