Mede8er MED500X Media streamer Review

AVForums takes a look at the latest Mede8er media streamer...

by AVForums
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Highly Recommended
Mede8er MED500X Media streamer Review
SRP: £160.00

Introduction

The Mede8er is a Realtek based media streamer released by a South African company called Sanji. It is available through just a few retailers here in the UK, so has perhaps not achieved the level of market penetration that the likes of Popcorn Hour have. However, at its relatively low price point compared with these market behemoths – just how much does the Mede8er have to offer the home streaming enthusiast? In the first of our series of streamer reviews, we put this little box through the wringer to ascertain whether it has what it takes to be worthy of a place in your AV rack.

The Mede8er uses the Realtek 1073 chip which is the same chip as many other players on the market. Although this means that performance across players with this chip is likely to be broadly similar – especially within the GUI out of the box, different manufacturers can do things with firmware upgrades that can improve many functions of the device. This player has been on test for almost a year now, and the pleasing thing is that over that time there have been two major firmware revisions and several minor ones. This review will mainly deal with the version 3 firmware, that is currently the most recent version. However, we have been given exclusive access to the version 4 firmware which is, at the time of writing, in public Beta, and we will also be looking at this during the course of the review. Version 4 is going to radically change the way you access your media through this device and is probably the biggest update to the system since its release. It should also be noted that Sanj have recently released an updated version of this box with a new chip inside. Although this will make very little difference to the way the box operates – it does add support for DTS-HD and other HD sound formats. If this is a deal breaker for you, then you may want to check with your supplier. Some of these newer boxes have been spotted out in the wild, but as yet not with any consistency. AV Forums have tested both boxes and can report apart from this sound streaming change there are no other discernable differences.

Build

The first thing to note when unboxing the Mede8er, is just how much is packed inside. Not only do you get the Mede8er itself, but you also get a nice little carry case so that if you have your media on an internal hard drive, and want to take the box around to a friend’s, then it is very easy to do. You also get a nice selection of leads, including the pleasant surprise of a HDMI cable. Also included in the box is a strange looking docking gizmo. On further examination, it proves to be a wireless adapter which plugs into one of the USB ports allowing the (optional extra) wi-fi adapter to be placed away from the unit. This is a very nice touch and we will look at the wireless performance later in this review.

The immediate impressions on first taking the unit out of the box are impressive. The unit is black plastic with a simple on/off button at the front and a range of buttons along the bottom of the unit. These buttons are actually a very comprehensive inclusion – allowing you to perform the majority of the functions of the player without using the remote, should you so wish. The device is a compact size – you can rest it on the palm of a hand – and is light and easy to carry. The size and form factor means that it sits perfectly on the shelf next to my amp.

The connections provided with the unit are certainly impressive. On the right hand side of the unit, you have two USB ports, an SD card reader and a USB slave. The back of the device features an HDMI 1.3 port, optical and coaxial audio (including the stereo Left and Right) and also a component option. There is also a 10/100 ethernet port. The only problem I had with this configuration was the lack of USB ports on the front and rear. As I already mentioned, the device sits next to my amp – so this makes plugging anything into the USB problematic. This is a small point but needs to be born in mind. Apart from this, I am perfectly happy with the connections provided here.

Mede8er  MED500X

It is at this stage that we come across something that does set this device apart from its Realtek peers – and to be honest is the main reason why I purchased it. The Mede8er gives you the option of putting in an internal Hard Drive up to 2TB in size. As previously mentioned, this enables you to easily carry 2TB worth of video, music, and pictures around with you should you so desire. To my knowledge, it is the only Realtek player to offer this feature. Inserting a drive is very easy, simply undoing a few screws, plugging in the drive and doing the screws up again. It would, as always, be a good idea to check the compatibility list before purchasing a drive – but unsupported drives are rare. The most supported drives seem to be those supplied by Samsung, but we put in a generic drive, purchased online, and it worked with no problems whatsoever.

Another major positive for the Mede8er is the lack of noise in operation. The unit does have a fan, but it is whisper quiet. My Mede8er sits at the opposite end of the living room from my sofa but I can honestly say, even when streaming a full movie with a DTS soundtrack, I have never once heard fan noise above the sound from the film. Compare this with the 360 and the PS3 (both of which I have used as streaming devices in the past) and the difference is chalk and cheese. When people refer to these two consoles as possible alternatives for streaming, I am not entirely sure that they have taken fan noise into account. It is incredibly distracting when that noise like a jet engine taking off is not actually from the movie but your streaming device, perhaps ruining a tender romantic moment. There are no such problems with the Mede8er. Even doing tests when standing up close I have been unable to hear the fan.

The other major plus point for the Mede8er is its reliability. In nearly a year of testing the machine has never crashed mid playback. It has crashed three times when browsing the file structure, necessitating a hard reboot using the power button but, considering the major use it has had, this really is very impressive. I can also report that since installing version three firmware, and testing version four, there hasn’t been a single crash. This is in around six months of operation..

Set up

Setting up the Mede8er for the first time was an absolute doddle. It was simply a matter of plugging it in to the amp through HDMI and turning the machine on. Once you have a picture, there are plenty of options for you to configure. Within the sound section you are able to configure the night mode, and switch HDMI and SPDIF audio output to Passthrough, Multi Channel. or Downmix 2 Channel. The video section is much more comprehensive, allowing you to set the aspect ratio, and adjust with the brightness, contrast, hue and saturation of the image. You can also set DNR to auto or off, and set the output resolution all the way from 480P right up to 1080p both at 50 and 60hz mode. There is also a 1080p 24hz mode, a plasma mode, and a screen transparency mode. There is plenty here to keep the most ardent tinkerer happy and of course those looking to set the image as close as possible to the industry standards in their display chain.

Mede8er  MED500X

The network setup option is also most impressive. As well as both wired and wireless setup options, you can also turn on NAS mode (which allows you to access files from the Mede8er from a PC and manipulate them, as well as transferring files over), Remote Control (which allows you to control your Mede8er through your PC), and the FTP mode.

The options within the setup menu really do allow plenty of control to fine tune various aspects of use and is very impressive for a unit in such a price range – in fact it would be impressive in a unit costing much more.

Interface

The interface on the Mede8er is designed for display on HD TVs and as such it uses the screen real estate very well indeed. It uses the basic layout of all Realtek chips, but has added a few nice graphical flourishes of its own. When you first set it up, you have four menu options horizontally across the bottom of the screen. These are “Media Library”, “Internet Radio”, “File Manager”, and “System Setup”. System setup contains all the options as discussed in the previous paragraph, so here we will look at the other options. Obviously, once you have set up your Mede8er the first thing you are going to dive into is your Media Library. Click on this option and you are presented with a list of options to source your media from.

Mede8er  MED500X

Up until now, these are pretty much the same options as other Realtek players but with the added options of the SD Card and the Internal Hard Drive. I cannot pretend that this is the most user friendly or graphically attractive way to access your media, however many fancy Mede8er logos and metallic blue colour schemes are added by the dev team. However, it IS something that is being addressed. Please refer to the section on Firmware v4 to see exactly how things will change once this is released.

Whereas the way of accessing media, that we have at the moment, is not the most graphically exciting way of doing it, it is still intuitive and fast. You can set up a shortcut to the machine that hosts the media (in this case my home PC with two external hard-drives attached – no NAS in this home until budget allows), and you can see a list of folders that mirrors the folder structure on your source.

Click down to the level where you actually see the movie, and a very neat preview window, on the right hand side, will do one of two things. If you have run “Yamj to Mede8er” (a free utility provided on their forums), or any other similar program such as Thumbgen, then the movie info sheet, that is created, is visible in this window. Push the slow button and the sheet expands to fill the screen. If you have not used the YAMJ utility, then the preview window actually displays the film in a thumbnail view. This is a nice way to use the available screen estate and is a very useful and pretty graphical touch. At this stage, clicking on the file will bring it up almost immediately. The speed of access is satisfyingly fast. The Mede8er is capable of playing DVD ISOs with full menu system and the machine is very quick to bring these up for the user to access. Of course, if you do not want the extras then just the movie ripped to one of the supported file formats will be playable.

Mede8er  MED500X

Whereas it is unavoidable that other machines running a full YAMJ installation will have a much nicer looking interface, this can sometimes be at the expense of speed of response of the player. The simple file structure option, as offered here, does allow the user to quickly zip around the files and folders very speedily using the remote and reach their chosen film conveniently. If you name your folders obviously (in my case by letter and then sub folder by name), then even the non-techy members of the household can find things easily by simply accessing a pre-setup shortcut. It should also be mentioned, if you are new to the world of streamers, that the whole experience of adding and configuring YAMJ to a player is not always the easiest thing to do. Out of the box, the method of browsing offered by the Mede8er is an excellent one, and does in fact offer many advantages.

Of course, although a streamer like this is primarily for video, they can also do photos and music too. No streamer currently on the market will be able to replace a dedicated music streamer such as Squeezebox or Sonos – but the ability to at least listen to music, should you so wish, or even view your photos on your TV screen are welcome additions. Access to both music and video is done through the same file structure as the video. This means, that whatever file structure you use to store your music, is the same you see on the TV screen. Take, for example, my music collection. My music is managed through iTunes and then streamed to two Logitech devices in various rooms. If I choose to listen to the music on my Mede8er, then I have to scroll through each folder by letter to find the subfolder for artist, and then another sub folder for the album I want to listen to. It is a clunky interface, but then again anyone who buys this device for streaming music specifically is really looking in the wrong area. I tend to use the music very rarely, usually as a background for a photo slideshow which I am showing to someone. It is possible to play some music, and then access a photo folder so the music is playing whilst you view the images.

Playback

The video playback that this player has produced over the year on test has been nothing short of flawless, even over a network. The setup I have tested it over involves two external hard drives plugged via USB into my home PC which is wired to the network. The Mede8er is then wired into the same router in order to create the connection. At no point has the Mede8er ever failed to see shared folders or access the media within them.

As we review streamers on this site, it is important to have a consistent set of media to test them with. At this moment in time, the test material will be a DVD ISO rip of Jurassic Park, an HD movie file of Fame (2009), Star Trek DS9 series 2 in MKV format, and some downloaded videos from various websites. Home shot material consists of standard definition material, shot from a Fuji camera, and High Definition material from an iPhone 4. Each streamer we test will also be subjected to some DRM protected material. These will consist of an iTunes movie and some downloaded windows media protected material from the Liverpool FC website. I should point out, from a legal point of view, that every piece of material tested is owned by myself, and that you should not use a streamer to play illegally obtained material.

The first thing to note is how well the machine dealt with the HD rip of Fame. The source material is surprisingly testing, providing a picture which pushes the Mede8er. The source has a nice colour depth to it, and pleasing contrast and the Mede8er reveals this well. The black levels, as rendered by the streamer, are accurate and despite the fact that the picture is being streamed I detected no artefacting or any other picture degradation whatsoever. The 5.1 soundtrack is well rendered too, being streamed to the amp via HDMI and filling the room accurately.. Overall, although there may be a very slight reduction of picture quality from watching the original Blu-ray, this is nowhere near as pronounced as one would expect. I was very impressed with the HD performance of this unit.

Next up was a DVD ISO of Jurassic Park and immediately the quality of the streamer was again evident. However, before we get on to the quality of the picture, one slight flaw should be mentioned. When playing back a DVD ISO, the alignment between the graphical overlay and the menu option is slightly off. This is a problem that is present in the current version 3 firmware, but I am pleased to report has been eradicated in the version 4. So this is a problem that you may experience out of the box, but it will be eradicated within the next few weeks. The speed of moving around the DVD menus is comparable to a DVD, and the actual speed of access to the movie or the special feature is quicker than a DVD. The picture quality when watching a DVD through the Mede8er through the network is comparable to watching the original source and the challenging picture is perfectly rendered through the streamer. Dark, rainy scenes are as clear as on the original DVDs and the clarity of the well lit early scenes in the desert are fantastic. Again, the sound here is superb – the DTS soundtrack sounding as good as the original disc, right down to the Tyrannosaurus chomping down on an unfortunate beastie in your rear right speaker. There was no discernible difference between watching the DVD and watching the ISO through the Mede8er. Another test passed with flying colours.

Next up is the Star Trek : Deep Space Nine series 2 MKVs. Again, the Mede8er copes with these superbly and there is no discernable difference between watching these and the original DVDs. One nice touch here, is that the Mede8er keeps a record of the last episode you watched by putting a little icon next to it. This makes it easy to see (when presented with a long list of episodes) of exactly how far you have got through the series.

All downloaded clips from the Muse website played with no problems at all, although downloaded clips will reflect the original resolution. It is not, for example, realistic to expect a poorly encoded video to look good on a large HD screen. This should be remembered. Every downloaded video that I threw at the device worked absolutely fine, as did video shot on my Fuji camera. Unfortunately, I did run into problems with HD video shot on my iPhone 4. Basically, although the picture was fine (and looked absolutely stunning) the sound failed to play at all. This may be down to the encoding that Apple use, but it is disappointing. However, again version 4 has rectified this problem and the iPhone videos play beautifully through the Mede8er.

One nice feature is that every time you start up a video, it is possible to restart from your last viewing point via a pop-up menu. This is another feature that makes navigation of your clips easier. You also have the option, within playback, of zooming in and out in increments and also of resizing the image. It is even (sacrilege) possible to extend a 4:3 image to fill a widescreen, but this really isn’t recommended. Another really nice touch is that when you play a video the Mede8er creates automatic chapter points throughout the video for every minute. So, for example, if you want to skip to 98 minutes into a movie just hit 98 on the remote and it will take you straight there.

It is also possible to view two different layers of information about the clip you are viewing via the info button. Pushing this once gives you information about the file, and how far into the clip you are. Pushing it a second time gives you more information about the audio and video properties including codecs used.

As previously mentioned, it is also possible to play back music through your mede8er. Music quality is fine if not a little harsh in the top end. Through my setup, music playback lacked a little bass compared with the same file streamed through my Squeezebox. However, the overall quality was absolutely fine for general listening. Photos looked good through the slideshow option, allowing for various customisable transitions and effects. The playback of photos and music is nowhere near as intuitive as it could have been – the Mede8er is most definitely a video player first and foremost. But this is something it has in common with all such devices.

Version 4 Firmware

AV Forums has been lucky enough to be provided with an exclusive on the new Version 4 Beta Firmware, coupled with one of the new version Mede8ers. Version 4 promises to add much needed functionality to the device when it comes to browsing your media, and also adds a new GUI. I have been using this now for the past week, and have put it through some extensive testing. I am pleased to report that, despite a few bugs which are to be expected in a Beta firmware, the firmware revolutionises the User experience. In fact, the significant update reminds me of what Apple have achieved with their iPhone firmware updates, adding new features that make the machine feel almost new.

First of all, we have the new GUI, and you can see from these screenshots that ,although the colour scheme is basically the same, the whole interface is subtly different. The whole browsing experience uses the screen real estate much better, and although the improvements are not radical they do make the screen look much nicer.

Mede8er  MED500X

The real addition, though, is the video wall. Although this maybe lacks the flexibility of a full YAMJ installation, the simplicity of use presented here means that ,to me, this is a winner. The way it works is simple. In your media folders you put your video file of whatever description and two jpgs. These are called folder.jpg and about.jpg. The first one should be a jpg of the cover, or the poster, and the latter should be created through YAMJ to Mede8er or another similar program of your choice. Once this has been set up, you then browse to a folder of your choice on your Mede8er and hit the menu button which presents you with an “add to video wall” option. On the main boot up screen you can access the Video Wall screen directly without having to ever see any file structures. Once you hit the video wall, then you get a graphical representation of the folders that you have added.

Enter one of these folders and all the films inside that folder are represented with the folder jpg that you have created. Highlight this, and press enter and up comes the about.jpg that gives you all the info about the film. Enter again plays the file. You can skip the about stage by just hitting play when highlighting the cover.

Mede8er  MED500X

This is a revelation because, at a stroke, it has wiped out the need to browse through files and folders and simply allows you to see your collection. As we speak, there is only one flaw in the video wall system. This is that the video wall can only see two folders deep. If a folder contains a series, then when you highlight it, a list of the episodes pop up, again with a little icon beside the ones you’ve watched.

Wireless

I did not have high hopes for the wireless performance. I had always accepted the wisdom that streaming video files across the air would not be a satisfactory solution. This was born out when I bought a third party wireless adaptor and got a completely unusable result – even standard definition video was stuttering.

Mede8er  MED500X

To be fair to Mede8er, they do say that if you want to use wireless then third party dongles wont work and you need to buy the official one. For this review we were very kindly supplied a wireless dongle by Digital Era, one of the forums assured advertisers. I was absolutely stunned by the level of performance, to the extent that I have not bothered to wire my device back in. As unlikely as it may be, the wireless performance is indistinguishable from wired.

Streaming all the standard test material showed absolutely no difference to streaming over a wired connection. HD material, DTS soundtracks – everything was absolutely perfect. Although wireless video is not usually recommended without a homeplug solution – the Mede8er blew this theory out of the water and I would have no hesitation in recommending the official dongle. It is a shame it is not included in the box – and if you are planning to go wireless then you have to factor in the extra cost. But the performance of this dongle is stunningly good

Support

Many reviews may not take into account the support provided by the manufacturer – but I feel this is crucial to the end user. If a company is going to release a product onto the market and then rush onto the next model, without ironing out inevitable bugs in the existing one, then it is not going to help the user. Over the year that I have had the Mede8er the support has been exemplary.

For example, the company provide the end users with an FTP account so that if they find a file that cannot play, they can upload it for the tech bods to have a look at. I cannot imagine that many companies do this. When originally starting this review I was running v3 firmware and I had a problem where audio, on HD shot iPhone 4 videos, wouldn’t work. I uploaded the specs to the Mede8er forum and hey presto v4 fixed the issue. The head of the company posts regularly on the official forums, and often takes on board issues raised by customers. I can honestly say that I have never come across a company that listens to the consumers as readily as this one does – and it is a major plus for them.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Extremely stable in regular use
  • Excellent support
  • Built in Movie wall
  • Regular and robust firmware updates
  • Samba NAS feature
  • Internal Hard Drive Support
  • Wide range of video and audio codec support

The Bad

  • Wireless costs extra
  • Strange placement of expansion ports
  • Music playback interface is clunky

Mede8er MED500X Media streamer Review

The Mede8er is a fantastic machine that does everything it is supposed to do with an excellent user interface and a minimum of fuss. It may lack the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive machines on the market but, if you are on the lookout for a machine that will sit in the corner of your room and play virtually every file you could ever throw at it, then the Mede8er is a winner.

The build quality is solid, the range of connections is superb, and the fact that you can install an internal hard drive really adds to the package. It should also be mentioned that the support for the product is excellent. In an area where many companies are continuously rushing to push products to market before perfecting the previous model – the level of support provided via the Mede8er forums has been like a breath of fresh air. Continuous, robust firmware revisions and upgrades have been regular adding functionality to the device.

There are always going to be those who are going to demand more - power users if you like. They are going to bemoan the lack of widgets, the inability to torrent from the device, and the inability to use full YAMJ. These users are probably going to turn their nose up at the Mede8er. Whilst they are entitled to their opinion, they are probably missing the point. To me, the success of this product is that it brings media streaming into the home, at an affordable price and with a stability that is probably unmatched in the sector. You don’t want to be rebooting your machine every five minutes. You want to know that you can turn it on and it will play what you want it to play.

It would be lovely if the player could do more for those who want to use it to play music and pictures, but this is something that is a common complaint within the market. As it stands, for the price point that the Mede8er retails at, this is an awesome machine that appears to have no drawbacks whatsoever.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Performance

.
.
8

Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Set up, Menus, Remote

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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