However, while its media performance might not be able to match that of the WDTV Live, the Xtreamer wins points for offering a much larger range of features out of the box. As well as the array of back panel connections (including HDMI, S/PDIF optical out, composite and the 10/100 network port for accessing networked media) the Xtreamer also features an internal 2.5in SATA hard disk mount This allows you to upgrade the Xtreamer from a humble media player to an FTP server or NAS box. It's a valuable inclusion, especially for those put off by the cost of dedicated NAS boxes. However, the Xtreamer only offers a basic setup in comparison to more dedicated devices.
Sadly, adding a 2.5in hard disk to the Xtreamer means adding heat, which has necessitated the inclusion of an irritatingly noisy 20mm cooling fan. The fan has, from our experience, absolutely no impact on the performance of the device's media playback, so you can turn it off via the menu unless you fit a hard disk. However, the noise of the fan is a huge disincentive to fitting a disk to the drive bay in the first place.
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Bizarrely, considering the 20mm fan cools the hard disk not the chipset, Xtreamer also offers the device pre-fitted with an upgraded heatsink for the Ralink RT3070 chipset, claiming to help silence the player. However, with the fan switched off we noted absolutely no difference in performance between the stock and upgraded cooler – we’d previously been given the Xstreamer with the smaller reference heatsink and tested that. Files played back with identical success whichever heatsink we used, and even with and without the fan running with the new larger heatsink attached.
A better option then for those who chose to pick up the Xtreamer is the Wireless N antenna, offered with the device as part of a £99 bundle. We couldn’t find foreign pricing for the bundle deal available to UK customers Xstreamer site (it seems to have disappeared during the last month) and the only way to get the WiFi dongle seems to be to buy it separately from Amazon. If your local knowledge is better than ours, please suggest alternatives to this situation in the Comments thread.
While we're not fans of streaming HD video over even wireless N, thanks to the inherent variability in wireless networking, it's a much more worthwhile addition than the apparently pointless larger heatsink.
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As well as it's array of media playback options, the Xtreamer also offers access to a variety of flash video portals online, including YouTube, select BBC and SKY news content, and a host of additional services including weather, Google maps and much more. Disappointingly, there's still no way to watch iPlayer or Hulu via the Xtreamer, but the included array of online services is far wider than that of the WDTV.
Browsing the Xtreamer - and your media therein - is a fairly simple experience, with a plain and easily read HD interface that makes it easy to select your media source. However, there's no option to browse your media via thumbnail or preview as there is with the WDTV Live, and the poorly laid out remote control frequently leaves you confused as to which button to press. To leave playback and return to the browser do you hit pause? Stop? Return? Info? Sure, you could grab the manual, but the nature of a quality interface and controller is that it's intuitive and the Xtreamer’s is most certainly not.
While a more capable product on paper than the WDTV Live, the reality is that the Xtreamer is an inferior device where it counts the most – performance when playing a wide range of media formats. It’s all well and good offering support for every codec under the sun and an internal drive mount, but if the chipset at the heart of the device can’t cope with those files, then it’s not much use. While the 2.5in drive mount and ability to work as a networked storage device are very welcome, they shouldn’t have come at the sacrifice of being able to play every file that can be thrown at the Xtreamer. We should say that SD and 720p content did play flawlessly, however.
The main problem was with 1080p content, and we tried numerous high bit-rate videos only to find the Xtreamer stuttered or pixelated during playback, or just simply failed to play the file. The Western Digital WDTV Live played the same high bit-rate files without issue. We also found the interface of the Xstreamer to be confusing and irritating.
As such, the Xtreamer is a capable, but ultimately flawed media streamer, and while the WDTV Live packs less features on paper, it’s the far stronger candidate for your media playing needs thanks to superior playback abilities and a cleaner, easier to navigate interface.