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NAS Reviews

Media Playback

The standard NAS functions on the M3800 are basically the same as on other Thecus NASes such as the N3200 and N5200. So you can read those reviews and I won't rehash the basic capabilities. Instead, I'll touch on some of the more interesting features and dig into the video capabilities that are unique to the M3800.

Briefly, like the other Thecus models, the M3800 supports a number of different file services such as Windows-based SMB/CIFS serving, Apple's AFP protocol and Unix/Linux based NFS serving as well as FTP and HTTP file access.

But the M3800's main difference is its audio and video playback features. Figure 4 shows the TV Setup menu.

TV Setup

Figure 4: TV Setup

Figure 4 shows the M3800 configured for 720p playback through the HDMI interface. I found the warning shown just above the menu interesting. Evidently, using the video output to your TV interferes with the NAS performance of the product. So if you want fast file transfer, make sure the TV interface is turned off.

Once you have the video output configured, you should get the display shown in Figure 5 on your TV.

TV Display

Figure 5: TV Display

Note that I had to capture these screen-shots using a standard-resolution capture device, so the quality is lower than what you would get when using an HD display.

I couldn't find any configuration menus that let me specify where the system would look for media files. But I assume that the files come from the pre-defined Picture, Music and Movie folders. Unlike the HP Media Smart and Linksys Media Hub, the M3800 doesn't come with any media gathering / importing utility. You'll need to get your files over to the M3800 old-school style, i.e. manually.

But note that there could be some confusion here. Like the Thecus N3200, the M3800 also has the ability to serve media via the UPnP AV protocol. So when you're setting up the Media Manager (Figure 6), you're specifying the directories to serve to a media player on your network, not the directories to set up for playback on your TV.

Media Manager settings

Figure 6: Media Manager settings

The M3800's video playback formats are very limited with support only for WMV9, WMVHD and AVI containers. Audio formats are limited to only WMA and PCM. The widest format support is for images and includes GIF, JPG, BMP, and PNG. Note that there is neither MP3 nor AAC support. So you won't be playing back any of those unrestricted music files from the iTunes or Amazon music stores.

There is also no MPEG support of any kind specified. Nor are DivX, XviD, MOV or QT video either. But I was successful in playing back a VOB file, which contains MPEG2 video. In short, everything is really geared toward Microsoft formats. And of course, like most other media devices, nothing restricted with DRM is supported.

So the summary of all this is that if you want to use the M3800 to play back media on your TV, your collection should contain Microsoft containers and codecs. Mine isn't, but I did dig up some files for testing to see how it would do.

Can this box really play a 1080p video? Yep, it can. I downloaded a demo trailer from Microsoft and it played back without a hitch. Very nice. But after I tried a few more files, I came back to the HD file and the second time around, I only got audio. I had to reboot the M3800 in order for it to come back to normal. This was repeatable and seemed to be related to a WMV file that the M3800 was unable to play. Each time I tried and failed to play this file, the video subsystem would get into a bad state.

Fast-forward operation of an AVI file worked very smoothly. But when I tried reverse, it didn't seem to work at all. Instead it worked like a slow-motion button even though the back-arrow symbol was echoed on the screen. So video "trick mode" capabilities, even with the supported formats, was spotty.

The supported audio and image files played back fine. But the user interface is very plain and mostly consisted of browsing the directory hierarchy looking for files. There was no sorting by metadata such as artist, genre, etc. In general, the menu interaction is very basic and has a no-frills look (Figure 7). You're not going to impress friends and neighbors with this interface.

Playback Interaction

Figure 7: Playback Interaction

Thumbnails do get generated (Figure 8) when browsing still images, so that spruced things up a bit.

Photo Menu

Figure 8: Photo Menu

When you select a photo, a basic slideshow of all the pictures in the directory starts. There was no configuration for transitions between pictures, how long a picture would remain on screen or for music playback during the slideshow.

For general setup, there were only a few options (Figure 9). From this menu there's a handful of configuration items such as video output type, volume, music random-play, etc.

AV Configuration

Figure 9: AV Configuration

As I played with the box, I found the included IR remote a bit awkward and sluggish to use. Even with a new battery, I often had to struggle to get my remote commands recognized. Note also that there is no screensaver. So if you have a TV that is susceptible to burn-in, be careful.

The M3800 is designed to sit in your entertainment center for playback. But with the blinking disk and network LEDs, the bright blue power LED, and the constantly cycling status LCD display, it's all quite distracting when trying to watch a movie. As mentioned, earlier, you can turn the off LCD display. But you'll be doing this each time you power on and you can't douse the LEDs. In general, the A/V playback capability felt pretty much like a bolt-on to an existing product rather than a designed from the ground-up capability.

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