Just like the various remote options, the HD Station has various ways to get to content. Using YouTube as an example, you can use a third-party video add-on for XBMC, the HD Station YouTube app or you can get to YouTube through the Chrome browser. While you would expect these methods to be similiar in quality, you would be very wrong. Picture quality, smoothness and overall experience was much better within XBMC than using any of the other options. If you use the QNAP NAS as an HTPC, I expect you'll be spending most of your time within XBMC (shown below).
The familiar XBMC Confluence skin
QNAP includes XBMC as its media center of choice and it's executed very well. I felt XBMC on the QNAP made the HD Station the most viable NAS yet in the NAS-as-HTPC competition. Thecus also uses XBMC, which we looked at in the Thecus review. But it was built and compiled by a third party and threw python errors among other problems.
A notice is displayed on the main HD Station screen that XBMC is open-source and provided by a third-party company. But within the App selector screen, XBMC is labeled as QNAP Systems, Inc. and the forums show support for XBMC questions by QNAP staff.
The first test I ran on XBMC was to try my large 26 GB and 21 GB Super Troopers and Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray MKV rips. None of the media players I've tested to date have handled these two files without stuttering or tearing. I was shocked that both files played and played well! I kept watching closely, expecting to see some tearing or stuttering, but saw none. I was impressed! I played the files both from local storage on the QNAP and over the network. In both cases, they played flawlessly.
In the QNAP forums I found mention of video tearing, so I was surpised to find it work so well. QNAP also mentions that for the best HD Station experience, RAM should be upgraded to 2 GB or more. The NAS I was provided had only 1 GB, so that can't be an explanation. During the Blu-ray test CPU usage on both cores (4 total, hyper-threaded) sat around 25% and memory usage sat around 40%.
Satisfied with that test, I moved on to testing some Video Add-Ons. The primary object of my Add-On testing was Vimeo. I pulled up my 1080p Town of Ghosts test file, which was shot in the old mining ghost town of Bodie in the Sierra Nevadas. This video has sort of become my staple of first testing for HD internet content. Within XBMC this video played great, was great quality and didn't experience any buffering.
I moved on to YouTube. The YouTube videos within XBMC worked equally well and I experienced no stuttering or degradation. I also tried a few other Add-Ons within Video such as PBS and all worked fine with good quality.
I tested some of the other aspects of XBMC such as their UPnP and SMB media selections to make sure they worked and all worked as expected. Pictures and music also worked, but then again, they always do. Video is where problems usually show up. But XBMC worked very well during my testing on the QNAP.
YouTube is another app that says it's provided by a third-party company on the main screen (screenshot below), but says QNAP Systems, Inc. on the Application screen.
The HD Station YouTube selection
The first thing you'll notice going into YouTube is the warning you see below about needing either a USB mouse connected or the QRemote app. This isn't entirely true, because you can go into the YouTube app with the QNAP remote and use the arrows to navigate around, but you can't enter text. However, you can't really do that with a USB mouse, either.
The warning that a remote just won't do
The first thing I did within the YouTube app was log into my YouTube account and try to watch some of my Favorites. The videos I'd chosen as Favorites did not appear in the YouTube app however. I went to my laptop's browser to see if they'd been lost, but they were still there. I then went back to XBMC and found them there as well, so I don't know what the problem was.
I ran a search for Felix Baumgartner and tested a few videos, watching his record-breaking skydive from space. The YouTube app simply showed HD; I didn't see a way to tell resolution. By looking at the same video on my laptop, I saw it was a 720p video. This 720p video played very well.
The image below shows one of the videos I watched. Note the screenshot below is only available as 360p video on YouTube, the HD version I tested was Red Bull Stratos - Felix Baumgartner (freefall from the edge of space) [Full jump HD].
QNAP HD Station YouTube App
I wanted to test some 1080p content, so I pulled up a few YouTube videos from Vevo. While the quality was "ok", it wasn't nearly as smooth as watching through XBMC. Playback seemed rather slow at times and appeared to be dropping frames. The YouTube app on the QNAP NAS was good for showing random videos you might like (above). But the Favorites bug and lower quality video when viewing 1080p made XBMC a more desirable YouTube choice.