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Photo Display

Figure 7 shows a page where I am browsing through a collection of photos.

Photo Display

Figure 7: Photo Display

As you move up and down the list of pictures, a preview is shown on the right. A single picture can be shown by using the select button or a slide show can be displayed by using the play button on the remote.

During the slide show, a very nice, smooth "cross fade" is used to transition from one picture to the next. And if you put music files in the same directory, they'll be played back while the pictures cycle. You can also start music playback using the standard audio capabilities and then navigate into a photo directory to start the slide show.

If you want to get a better look at a picture, you can zoom in up to a 16X magnification and use the arrow keys to move around in the zoomed-in display. Support is provided for images in JPG, BMP, GIF, TIF, and PNG format.

Overall, the image slide show capabilities of the Ultio were easy to use and among the best I've tested in UPnP AV players. As a comparison, the DragonTech ioBox-100HD Network Media Tank I tested last month had only the most basic slide show capabilities with a unattractive menu, no music, no image preview, and a simplistic fade-to-black transition.

Video Playback

Music and photos are nice, but one of the biggest reasons people buy these products is for video playback. The Ultio is designed to play back 1080p video and is advertised with slogans of "the most comprehensive media center available in the market today", "format soup" and "it plays ALL". Those are pretty bold claims, so I wasn't surprised that the Ultio didn't live up to them.

For my HD tests, I have a handful of files and the Ultio was only able to play back around half of them. I was pleased to find it could flawlessly play back a 1080i Blue-Ray rip of The Shining that was in VC1 format, and it also handled a short 1080i video in a WMV container.

But here it failed to play a couple of 1080i H.264 files that the DragonTech ioBox handled flawlessly. Figure 8 shows a Fatal Error exception when I attempted to play a H.264 1080i capture of the 2008 NCAA Menu's basketball finals

Fatal Error

Figure 8: Fatal Error

I have a lot of SD movie content that mostly originated from handbrake rips of my DVDs. When I first started trying them from a UPnP AV server, few would play. I'd mostly just get an invalid file error with no other info. Note that this happened using two different UPnP servers serving content from two different drives.

The Ultio also has the ability to fetch content using a network SMB mount (Figure 9).

Network Share Setup

Figure 9: Network Share Setup

When I set up a network mount to access my videos, the same files that failed through the UPnP A/V severs would play fine. As a comparison, the DragonTech ioBox played these files without issue using the same UPnP servers. So there must a problem with the way the Ultio handles the output of the servers.

Note also that when accessing my music through the network share, the ID3 tags that were previously said to be missing were now present, although Album-art was still not displayed.

Figure 10 shows the Video playback menu when accessed through a network share.

Video Playback

Figure 10: Video Playback

As you move through the list of movies, a preview of the movie starts playing in much the same way as the photo display previewed still images. I found this to be a fun way to roam through my movies, but the downside is that you can get menu lag. If you move quickly through the menu, you don't get the preview, but if you pause on an item for a just a bit, the Ultio starts fetching and decoding the data, which can cause menu navigation to feel sluggish.

One thing I didn't like was that the preview also includes audio. For a preview, I don't think audio is necessary. The preview feature of the menu display can be disabled under the Video Setup menu. I'll also note here that one of my daughter's movies, 10 Things I Hate about you would cause the user interface to crash. All I had to do was stop on that movie in the navigation list, and shortly thereafter, the screen would go black, and I'd get dumped back to the top-level menu. This happened both when accessing the movie through UPnP and through a network mount.

Once nice feature of the Ultio is the ability to play back ISO DVD files. ISO files show up just like any other file, but when selected, they play back just like a standard DVD with all menu navigation, special features, etc. Nice. Note that this only works with ISO files and have no encryption or have the encryption removed and it won't work when served through UPnP.

Another thing I always check out with these players are trick modes, i.e. fast forward, fast reverse, etc. The Utlio has these modes, and they work. But like most devices that stream across the network, the trick-modes felt a bit choppy and/or sluggish with more jumps forward and backward instead of smooth playback.

Mvix advertises support for a wide variety of video formats including MPEG 1, 2, 4, AVI, MOV, WMV, DivX and XviD. For the full list, check out the supported formats document. During my testing, I was able to play back a variety of files in various containers including MPEG 2, VOB, MPEG 4, H.264, AVO, and MOV's DivX, XviD. But I didn't have any luck with my MPEG 1 files or my MJPEG files in a MOV container.

Despite the claim of "it plays ALL", the Ultio only did about as well as most other media players I've seen. But I was disappointed that it couldn't handle more of my H.264 High-def content. Nothing can play it all, but the Ultio didn't even do as well as the DragonTech ioBox, especially when working with a UPnP server.

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