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Photos and Audio

The ioBox supports basic slide shows using JPEG, GIF, BMP or PNG images. You just navigate to a directory full of photos and then hit the Play button to start the show. In the preferences area you can set the photo display time as well as specify that a fade transition be used. This feature worked, but was about as basic as you can get for slideshows.

Audio playback was similar in operation. Navigate to a directory of audio, and hit the play button to start playing the songs. Support is provided for a wide range of formats: MP1/2/3, WMA, WMA Pro, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, AC3, PCM, WAV and FLAC. On some of my files, I even got an album-art display (Figure 7) while the music was playing, while on others I did not, even though it was present in the file.

Music Display

Figure 7: Music Display

As compared to other media-playback boxes I've tested, the ioBox was similar to most. But as compared to the AppleTV I use on a day-to-day basis, there is no contest. The AppleTV can do combined audio and photo slideshows with complex, fluid, user-specified 3D transitions, fades, animations, etc.

Video

Handling video is the toughest task that media players have to handle since there are so many different encodings being used. In the last couple of years, I've taken to ripping all of my DVDs in H.264 using Handbrake and I'm glad to report that the ioBox played all of these back fine.

The only issue I had was that the audio came out as stereo instead of the Dolby Digital 5.3 I was getting on my AppleTV. This doesn't surprise me, as it's my understanding that the Handbrake developers had to do a bit of a non-standard hack to get the 5.3 audio included in the output file.

One of the big selling points of NMTs is their ability handle almost any video you can throw at it. So how did it do with my video collection (Figure 8)?

Video Selection

Figure 8: Video Selection

Not bad. I had a few older WMV files around that it couldn't play and it choked on some of my MOV files. But overall, I'd say this box played back more files than any other (non-hacked) media player that I've tested. I had success with MPEG1, MPEG2, XviD, DivX and other files. The ioBox also comes out on top with the ability to handle "trick modes" such as fast-forward, reverse, slow-motion, etc. This all worked better than I've ever seen with other products, although on occasion, it did skip backward when I would get out of fast-forward mode.

Once nice feature is the box's ability to play back ripped DVDs. If you've ripped your DVDs to your hard drive and removed CSS encryption, the ioBox can play them just like you were using the original DVD. You get full menu support, scene selection, etc. It's a cool feature when it works. But I had a frequent failure where it appeared as if the DVD subsystem was in a bad state. One time it would work, but then the next time it would start to bring up the DVD menu, before falling back to the file selection screen.

One confusing thing to note about the DVD playback is that it only works when you're accessing the files locally or via a network share. It you're accessing the media via a UPnP server, you'll be able to play the VOB files from the DVD, but you won't get the complete DVD menu-driven experience.

And how did the box do with HD? I don't have a large HD video collection, but I do have a handful of 1080p files and they all played back without issue. It was great to be able to stream a high-quality video across the network and pause, fast-forward, reverse, etc. I have a 1080p H.264 capture of last year's NCAA Men's Basketball Finals (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!) that I've never been able to play anywhere. Even though my dual-core MacBook Pro has trouble with it, the ioBox played it back from a network share perfectly. Very cool! And what about Blu-ray? I have a Blu-ray rip from my copy of "The Shining" and the ioBox had no trouble with it either. Impressive! With Blu-ray, I didn't get full menu support like I did with standard DVDs, but the video played back perfectly.

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