1. Join Now

    AVForums.com uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Netgem I-PLayer - user review

Discussion in 'Satellite TV, Sky TV & FreeSat' started by cerebros, Jun 21, 2003.

  1. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Just thought I'd give everyone my views on the I-PLayer I've had for nearly a week now.


    Background

    Having just moved into a rented house with my gf, we found ourselves with rather poor reception on two of the channels we watch the most, C4 and C5, and inferior reception on BBC1 & 2. (ITV which we watch least was annoyingly perfect). Having tried a signal booster (which made a small but not significant improvement) and having ascertained that we only had a loft aerial, not an outdoor one or shared one, I decided that I'd give Freeview a whirl to see if it would give us the decent reception we remembered from our previous address.

    Having weighed up the options and looked at the specs and prices of the different boxes, I eventually chose the Netgem I-Player
     
  2. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    First Impressions

    My first impressions of the box itself were not too favourable. It's very light and doesn't feel like it would survive being knocked off the top of a TV if situated on one. The remote is also a bit of an awkward shape, and isn't one for people who like remotes they can operate single-handedly, although you might get used to it after a while.
     
  3. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Hooking Up - 1

    As we've only got a Philips 14" portable in the lounge at the moment, I was limited to a choice of one SCART into which to plug the I-player. To start with I decided to plug directly into the TV rather than integrating it with my VCR and DVD deck.

    The unit came with a SCART lead but I decided to use the THOR SCART I'd bought especially. I also hooked the unit into the phone socket using the supplied cord.
     
  4. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Set-up

    Setting up was pretty easy. Turn the unit on and it goes away and does its thing before asking if you want to go on-line to check for newer software.

    Other than that, I think the only choice I had to make was telling it what kind of TV I had - although it only gave two options, 16:9 and 4:3; no differentiation between 4:3 Pan & Scan or 4:3 Letterbox, although this was soon remedied through the Preferences menu
     
  5. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    First Viewing

    After set-up was complete, my gf and I started checking round the main channels we were interested in. Thankfully we now appeared to have a decent quality picture on all the main 5 terrestrial channels.

    Not to say that it was a perfect viewing experience though.

    While there was no sign of the blocking at the start of a new scene I've witnessed on Sky Digital in the past, there were occasional blips where the sound badly distorted for a fraction of a second and the picture displayed chunks of the image from a second or two ago.

    Overall though, a far improved viewing experience.
     
  6. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Hooking Up - 2a

    Having established that the box appeared to be in proper working order, I decided now was the time to hook in the rest of my components. However, with only one SCART on the TV to go round, how best to do this?

    I decided to see what the I-Players manual suggested and was suprised to find that they had a suggested option for just this situation - unfortunately, it seemed to be fundamentally flawed.

    The method suggested was to plug the DVD player into the VCR's AUX SCART, the VCR's main output SCART into the I-Player's second SCART socket, and the I-Player's main SCART out into the TV.

    As expected, this buggered the video signal from the DVD player when trying to playback a Region 1 DVD, with the end result being a black and white picture on the menus. I didn't bother playing back the actual program to confirm that macrovision would then kick in...

    Also, this routing would not allow me watch a DVD while recording something on the VCR, as all the digital and analogue tuners were now higher up the chain
     
  7. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Hooking Up - 2b

    I then tried out what I figured should be the best option:- I-Player main output into VCR's AUX SCART, and VCR's main output into the DVD players second SCART, and DVD's main SCART into TV.

    This worked as expected, except that I had to switch the I-Player to output S-Video rather than RGB, as it appears my VCR won't pass through RGB, as the signal was blurred when I tried that setting.

    I could now watch a DVD while the VCR recorded something from the I-PLayer via the VCR's AUX SCART input
     
  8. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Further Viewing Experience

    Having a Freeview box means you also get a larger compliment of channels. Contrary to initial expectations, you (well I at least) can often find something worth watching on channels other than the main five.

    For example, I've been able to catch some of the episodes of "I, Caesar" on UK History that I missed on their original airing a while back on the BBC. I was also delighted to discover that Dilbert is on Ftn.

    The only thing that's really annoying (and this is the fault of Freeview, not the I-Player) is the lack of a proper EPG, other than the listing of what's on now and next, as it seems national papers don't do channel listings for the Freeview only channels.
     
  9. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Reception

    While on the whole the picture quality is superior to what we were getting from analogue before (although I wouldn't go as far as saying it was superior to the analogue picture you get in a strong signal area), it does seem more susceptible to the weather.

    When we got a period of dark cloud around Wednesday night, reception deteriorated quite badly on some of the lesser channels (UK History, The Hits) to the point where the sound was constantly distorted and the picture was a mess of coloured blocks.

    Delving into the I-Player's menus, I called up the television diagnostic screen and looked at the reception checker.

    Signal strength seemed to be around 30% +/- 1% across all channels, but the Quality and BER (Bit-Error Rate?) seemed to vary quite a bit. While the ITV's were well up into the 70's and showing no glitches, BBC1 & 2 were varying between 48- 63%.

    The Hits was struggling to stay above 30%, with a BER that went over 99.00 at one point, and was averaging the mid 40's. However, as soon as the cloud conditions improved a bit, the picture started returning to normal
     
  10. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Reception Continued...

    As an experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I took the aerial signal booster out of the equation. It was quickly put back in - without it the I-Player couldn't pick up a signal at all. Short of getting a roof aerial, I'm not sure that there's anything that could be done to improve the reception of digital, although if I could lay my hands on a more powerful booster than the one I've got at the moment, it might be interesting to see what (if any) improvement it made.

    Something that also seems to affect the reception, is vehicles driving East by South-East down the road, which is close to 90 degrees to the direction the aerial points in. Vehicles going the other way don't seem to affect it. Also, the police helicopter seems to interefere.

    However, I think these issues are more likely down to having the aerial in the attic rather than external.
     
  11. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Other Stuff

    The I-Player has some features that would appear to mark it out over and above some of the other Freeview boxes.

    For a start, with the latest software it can be set to output a component video signal from its main SCART. You'll need a special SCART obviously, probably something like QED's AV29 (although I've not tried this myself, so don't go buying on my say so) to connect it to a component input on a suitably equipped AV amp or TV/Plasma/LCD panel. It might also be interesting to find out if you could output component straight over SCART into one of the Loewe sets that can accept component through SCART...
     
  12. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Other Stuff Continued

    The I-Player also has a TOSLink optical output, which is claimed to be compatible with 5.1 audio should DTT 5.1 broadcasts ever start - a claim that, given the current braodcasting ethos in this country, is unlikely to ever be put to the test.

    A built-in modem allows the box to call out for software updates. It also provides web-browsing functionality - something I've not got round to testing yet.

    Rather more unusually, it also features a USB port to which a number of printers, hard discs and other things can be attached (see here for a list of compatible devices). Of special note, considering the boxes web-browsing functionality, are the USB to Ethernet adapters, which would allow you to connect the box to your PC network and browse the net via your ADSL router.
     
  13. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Other Stuff Continued

    The I-Player also features an 8-event VCR Timer setting, which you can use to program the box to turn on and off at a particular time on a particular channel, so you can record Freeview programs on your VCR. Yes it's a manual method, but until a Freeview EPG appears (the official one is not due until next year according to this months Home Cinema Choice magazine) it's back to manually entering start/end/date & channel - only now you've got to do it on two boxes instead of one. I've already managed to cock up recordings a couple of times by forgetting to set the VCR to record from the regular channel number, rather than from the AUX SCART input

    Given the track record of updates for the I-Player however, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the facility to select a program directly from the EPG to record. found its way into a software update. Still not as elegant a solution as something like Tivo perhaps, but unless some way can be found to control a VCR's functions from the I-PLayer (perhaps via a widget connected to the USB port...?) it would at least save you a few button presses.
     
  14. cerebros

    cerebros
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    1,187
    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Leicester
    Ratings:
    +11
    Scores for now

    It would be unfair to score the I-Player on picture and sound quality as a Freeview box without having had the opportunity to directly compare it against its competitors. Also, without being able to compare with another box, it's hard to know how many, if any, of the visual blips and distortions are down to the signal being received rather than the box itself.

    So instead, I'll score it on the basis of the picture quality improvement it has brought over the, admittedly very poor, analogue reception at the house. On this basis I'll score it a 9 out of 10.

    Soundwise I've not had a chance to pump it through an AV amp yet so I've not had any real chance to judge the quality, so I'l not score at this time.

    Features-wise, I'm giving this box a 10 out of 10, as the manufacturer seems to have gone out of the way to make the box adaptable and to have a genuine interest in providing extra functionality via updates (such as component output).

    Value for money. It's not the cheapest Freeview box out there, but if you're looking for a Freeview box with twin SCARTs I think it does quite well in price comparison terms (although this is from a fairly limited look around at what's out there). At the most expensive that I've seen this unit, £129.99 (a price equal with the cheapest Nokia 221T I've seen), I'd probably score it 7 out of 10, but when you shop around, you can get this unit for less. I got it for about £115 from John Lewis on-line, taking advantage of voucher offers and free delivery, and you can get it for about the same from Empire Direct once postage is factorerd in. At this price I'll give it 8.5 out of 10.
     

Share This Page

Loading...