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Google Chrome Browser

Google Chrome is the browser QNAP supports on HD Station. The image below shows the Chrome selection.

Google Chrome on the QNAP HD Station

Google Chrome on the QNAP HD Station

Thecus used Firefox and the ASUSTOR has the browser built into Boxee. The first thing I did was to run a baseline benchmark via SunSpider. Sunspider does vary (and sometimes greatly) between browsers on the same machine, so it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. But the results compared to the Thecus and my low-power Atom server are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that the numbers are cumulative timings and lower numbers are better.

Low-power Atom server (1.8GHz D525) Thecus N5550 (1.86GHz D2550) QNAP TS-469L (2.13GHz D2700)
SunSpider benchmark 829.7ms (Firefox) 932.8ms (Firefox) 860.4ms (Chrome)

The simple test provides a ballpark estimate that shows that browser performance is comparable between the low-power server and the Thecus. Armed with this, I made a few guesses on what my results would be with the testing from the Thecus review in the back of my head, but I kept an open mind.

My first test was Town of Ghosts again in Vimeo. It was very choppy and stuttered a good amount, with lots of framedrop. The experience was greatly different from watching it in XBMC on the QNAP.

For a testing of flash content I went to nbc.com and tried to watch some Biggest Loser videos. While the videos looked like they were going to play and I never got a flash or browser not supported message, they never played either.

I closed nbc.com and then went to YouTube. YouTube worked a little better, but quality was not as good as it was in XBMC or even in the YouTube app. If you want to watch YouTube videos I suggest using the XBMC YouTube Add-On for best quality and the YouTube app as long as it's 720p or lower.

I also tried videos at vudu.com and was given the message, "Video playback is not supported on this device. Playback is only supported on PCs / Macs and on VUDU-enabled devices". I talked to Tim about this and he suggested Chrome is most likely identified as a mobile browser and many sites block mobile browsers. I decided to check the HTTP_USER_AGENT of the browser and found Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.11 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/23.0.1271.97 Safari/537.11.

This confirms the browser is not seen as a mobile browser as we thought it might be, so I did a little forum browsing. I saw lots of complaints about Vudu no longer working on Linux distros. There were posts here and there of people getting it to work, but overall, no love for Linux on Vudu. If you heavily use Vudu, you may reconsider using a Linux-based NAS as your HTPC.

My last test for HD internet content in the browser was http://www.hd-trailers.net. I pulled up a few trailers and started with 480p content. The 480p content had frame drops and was not very smooth, so I stopped there.

I ran a few other tests in the browser like accessing Facebook and Gmail. They worked just fine. I would suggest using the Chrome browser on the QNAP NAS for browsing sites and not necessarily for heavy media usage. Chrome just doesn't cut it for internet media access.

Aesthetics

The TS-469L passed the aesthetics and 1-year old tampering test. (If you read the Thecus review you may remember our 1- year old was constantly pushing buttons on the Thecus and pulling out drives.) While the QNAP TS-469L has no drive locks, our 1-year old was not interested in it at all, so it wasn't a problem.

Size is about comparable to the other NASes we've looked at, the image below shows it sitting on top of our subwoofer. It seems slightly smaller, but the difference is hardly quantifiable.

A size comparison of the QNAP to our subwoofer

A size comparison of the QNAP to our subwoofer

There is no LCD screen on the TS-469L so its presence is very unassuming. Drive or fan noise was not even loud enough for us to hear in the media room.

Closing Thoughts

Out of the NASes we've tested in the NAS-as-HTPC derby, QNAP's HD Station has the best execution so far. XBMC works very well on the QNAP, playing my two ginormous Blu-ray rips that the Thecus and ASUSTOR both had trouble with. But QNAP's outstanding performance ends with XBMC. Its YouTube app was just ok and the Chrome browser works only for normal browsing. Forget using it for seriously accessing internet video.

That said, I still don't like the idea of an expensive ($629 without drives) NAS, sitting near our media center where the cat or little ones could do some damage to it. I like seperation of duties, instead. I'd rather have it in a more secure area, serving media files via DLNA, retaining backups of our computers and safely out of the way.

On the other hand, I'm still impressed with Raspbmc, which costs about 1/10th the price the price of a diskless TS-469L. While Raspbmc did not handle the two 21 GB and 26 GB Blu-ray files, it played everything else just as well and had the added bonus of being able to be controlled by your own TV remote via HDMI-CEC.

I doubt that many people will be rushing out to drop $500+ on a NAS just for its media player features. This recent spate of "look we're a media playback machine too" jostling that the Taiwanese NAS makers are engaged in is just another bid to distance themselves from the competitive pack. It's just another feature set thrown on top of the already toppling heaps that their products already have.

NAS HTPC features are still in their early development stages and it remains to be seen how long the craze will last. But if you're bound-and-determined to buy a NAS with the intent to use it as a media player, then a QNAP that supports HD Station is your best bet for now.

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