|At a Glance|
|Product||Thecus Stream Box (M3800)|
|Summary||Three-bay BYOD NAS supporting direct media playback via HDMI, component and S/PDIF output.|
• Supports SMB,AFP and NFS
• 1080p output
• Few audio and video formats supported
• Bland user interface
I have a rather large multimedia collection that I typically store down in the basement where I can stream it upstairs to my entertainment center. But even on a wired network, I occasionally see a bit of a video glitch or stutter when the network becomes saturated. And sometimes having the storage down in the basement is not as convenient as having it nearby when I need to do maintenance. My point is that when dealing with digital multimedia playback, sometimes instead of streaming your data across the network, it's worth considering combining your storage and your playback unit.
This is the approach taken by Thecus' M3800 Stream Box. The M3800 combines a three-bay RAID 5 BYOD NAS with a built-in media card that can handle A/V playback up to 1080p. It also, of course, functions as a traditional media-enabled NAS and can stream to media players if that's what you prefer. Thecus' products have typically turned in great NAS performance. So we'll see if they handle media playback as well.
Physically, the M3800 is an attractive product roughly the size of a two-slice toaster. SATA drive access is through a easily-removable front faceplate. The drives themselves slide in via trays that are secured with thumb-screws. Figure 1, from the M3800 manual, shows the back panel with all connectors labeled.
Figure 1: Back Panel
You can see the expansion card in Figure 1 that provides the video and audio outputs. Essentially, the M3800 is a variation of the now-discontinued N3200 with a a beefed-up CPU, i.e. an N3200 Pro, and media output card. For A/V use, the M3800 provides a nice set of connections allowing both high-def and standard-def usage. And for expansion capabilities, you can add an external USB or eSATA drive along with a several types of USB peripherals: printers, wireless adaptors and USB webcams.
If you want to try a wireless adaptor, head over to the Thecus support site for compatible models, and while you're there also look for compatible USB web cams. There is also a USB port on the front panel, which is designed for temporary connections and copying data to the internal drive. Also on the front panel, you'll find a couple of rocker-switches, a number of status LEDs, and most prominently, a two-line LCD panel.
When I first powered up the NAS, the geek in me really appreciated the cycling display of info on the LCD display. But for a media-center product intended to set in a media or living room, it became distracting after awhile. Fortunately, the display can be turned off by holding down the Cancel button on the front panel. But you'll have to do this each time you power up.
An unusual feature for a "home" NAS is the dual gigabit Ethernet ports found on the back panel. One's labeled LAN and the other, WAN. But the routing functions that Thecus builds into many of its NASes are limited, at best. The dual-ports also don't support link aggregation or redundant fail-over. But they can be used to connect to two different LANs.
You can also tell from Figure 1 that the fan is a bit on the large side, which allows it to move a lot of air quietly. I found the noise level of the Stream Box to be on the low side, which is a requirement for a NAS that's destined for your entertainment center. As for power draw, I measured 30 W when active and 15 W when idle with three drives.
Thecus provides setup software for both Windows and Mac OS systems. Figure 2 shows the initial setup screen from my Mac after the M3800 was located on my LAN.
Figure 2: Device Initialization
The basic setup was pretty much what you'd expect, with selection of network parameters, initial RAID setup, password setup, etc. Once the product is initially set up, you can then turn to a web-based interface to do further maintenance and configuration. Figure 3 shows the fairly spartan web interface after I logged in as the admin user.