Digital media is what it's all about these days. Whether it's music on your computer or video on your iPod, it seems that those who would consider themselves technorati are constantly trying to come up with new ways to get media in different places.
Problems include storage and distribution, as well as cost. Sure you've got the DVD, but that's just one disc - what if you want to lend that to a friend and still be able to watch it? It would be great to have all that media underneath your TV, but do you really want another computer to handle all of that?
The MediaMan is one attempt to answer this question. It's a device that basically attaches a hard drive to a video output. Plug it into a computer via USB, fill up the hard drive with media and then connect up a video cable to a TV. Via the wonders of a built-in GUI and a remote control, you can proceed to enjoy your media on the big screen.
The box looks like an external HDD caddy. There are buttons on the front to control playback, as well as an LCD display to show track information. The rear has a whole raft of output options, including:
Coax digital audio;
Optical digital audio;
5.1 analogue audio.
There's also a USB 2.0 plug for connecting up to a computer. Transferring media across is as simple as drag and drop, and the MediaMan supports most formats you'll want to throw at it - with the exception of DRM'd content from Microsoft and Apple.
However, DivX, MP3 - even raw ripped DVDs in .VOB format are supported, and there is also support for subtitling. Playback is controlled via the remote, which we weren't very keen on. It felt a bit too much like a remote for a cheap TV, and we couldn't really work out why it needed a million buttons when the most used keys were basically left, right, up, down and OK.
This brings us on to the menu system, which wasn't all that great either. There is plenty of opportunity for a decent set up - the box can output 720p or 1080i, and you can choose how you want your audio decoded. The rest of the navigation, however, isn't particularly slick, and the respose time between pushing the remote button and the action happening on-screen was a little slow at times.
All of which is great, except for the part where we get to the price. The MediaMan is £150 without a drive installed. If you want a 160GB drive pre-installed then you have to pay £226. That's a fairly outrageous markup given that 160GB drives can be had from Ebuyer for around £40. There are other configurations of drive that provide varying degrees of value, but it's hard to recommend buying even the base unit without a drive for £150, and adding your own.
We think that's simply too much to pay for a caddy with a GUI and some outputs. For £250, you can buy an Xbox 360 and a USB 2.0 hard drive with a pretty decent capacity. That's a rather better value proposition, we'd suggest, although there are various trade-offs involved in that kind of equation - the 360 handles CD encoding as well as drag and drop, but not .VOB, for example.
We like the MediaMan, but we do feel it needs to be a little cheaper. If portable playability is your thing, however, you might get a kick out of this.