January 31, 2008

EZFetch Media Streamer: Hands On Review


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We have had the EZ-Fetch Networked Media Streamer for almost a month now and we have had time to run it through our paces and see what it had to offer. We tested it out with a variety of different types of media to see what it could handle. We wanted to see if this little streamer had what it took to be ranked with the more seasoned companies and the products that they had produced. Check out what are thoughts are after the jump.


Let us start off with some basics first. In order to get content playing through this device you need to have a media streaming server running on your network. The EZ-Fetch ships with a copy of SimpleCenter, but it will work with any UPnP server like TwonkyMedia or TVersity. Once you setup the server to point to your media all you have to do is just pick which server you want to use via the EZ-Fetch interface. For this review we decided to use TwonkyMedia as our UPnP server since that is the most popular UPnP server on the market. We tested out SimpleCenter, the server they ship with the device, and we will make notes of any differences that we found along the way. Also the SimpleCenter application itself is a bit of a bear. It is fairly slow and it reaks havok on your machine while it builds its catalog of your media.

Let start with basic setup of the device via the internal menu system. The first menu that you are presented with is a fairly spartan one that allows you to view the UPnP servers that are active, view the contents of the USB device that is plugged in or view the system settings.

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Moving to the settings menu you aren't given many choices in the configuration of the device. First you can adjust the network settings to select wired or wireless. One of the nice features of this device is that the remote control has a button that will bring up an on screen keyboard that you use to enter all of your data with. If you chose to go with a wired setup then you don't really need to touch this screen. It defaults to using a wire connection and obtaining an IP address via DHCP.

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If you decide to use the wireless option your life will become slightly more complex. Depending on the level of security that you have configured you will have more on screen keyboard typing to do. Hopefully if you have a wireless network you are running some sort of security and don't just leave it wide open for anyone to jump on. If you do in fact not use security( shame on you ) then your setup is just as simple as it was for the wired. Otherwise you will need to either find your SSID from the drop down or type it in if you hide it. Then you need to select the encryption type and enter your password.

wireless_network_settings.jpg


We attempted to get it on our wireless networking and we actually battled with the device for awhile before giving up. We hadn't really ever had a problem getting devices to connect to our wireless network before so we aren't really sure what the issue is. Our SSID is hidden and we use WPA2( which this device supports ) but we could never get it to connect. If we ever do figure this out we will update the post, but for now we just went with it in wired mode. One of the annoying things that we encountered though was that any time you changed something in the network settings, regardless of what it was you needed to reboot the device for it to take effect. We aren't sure why this is necessary, but our only thought is that they just force a reboot to make sure that everything is setup properly. It can be very annoying if you are trying to get this to hook up to your network and you have to wait for this to reboot 5 different times.

Next we went to the display settings. There really isn't much to this one, you can select the video output that you want, either DVI/HDMI or composite/S-Video as well as the TV resolution type. We just selected DVI/HDMI and NTSC since we were just testing this out on our monitor and not using a TV.

Display_Settings.jpg


The audio settings page just has one option and that is for selecting the audio output you want to use. It is recommended that you just use Raw setting unless you know you need one of the other two.

audio_settings.jpg


The last section in the settings menu is for general settings. In here you can adjust the delay for slideshows as well as upgrade the devices firmware and view product information. In the product info screen you will find a copy of the license as well as a list of all the copyrights.

general_settings.jpg


OK, enough of the settings let's get into what this streamer can do.

Video


Video playback over a wired connection was actually very nice. The playback was smooth without any noticeable dropout that we have seen with other streamers we tested out. Fast forward and rewind worked reasonably well, the only problem we saw was with rewind. Whereas fast forward made the image simply speed up, when you rewind it would jump back by segments instead of just smoothly rewinding. We tried a bunch of the different formats that the EZ-Fetch supports and they all seemed to play back fine. The only issue we saw was with one of our test videos. We made a simple HD movie with our camcorder and saved it in two resolutions: regular and HD. The regular file was able to playback without a problem whereas the HD version never was able to play and in fact it crashed the box. We tested this same file out on a few other devices and it played back fine so we aren't sure what was in it that caused the EZ-Fetch to have such problems. Since this was not a common occurrence we can't knock it too much.

If you stop a video and then start it back up again it will start from where you left off. This is a great feature we wish more companies would add to their devices. We didn't test to see if there was a limit to how many files it could remember the last location of, but we never ran into a max with all of the files we tested. We have some more to say about the video aspect of the EZ-Fetch, but we will cover that in our performance section below.

Music


As with just about all of these multi-function streaming devices the music playback works, but is about as rudimentary as possible. Most of these streamers really push the video side of it, for good reason, and often neglect the audio section. You don't really feel as if you are using an audio streamer when you are in the audio interface. You select the song and it plays, as you would expect. At the bottom you see how long it has been playing for, the total length and the name of the song. All the basics, but it just feels like it is missing something. No ability to create a playlist or queue songs up for instance. If I were creating a streaming product in this crowded field I would make a pure video streamer. Devices like the Squeezebox are out there and are designed to do one thing, play music, and they do it extremely well. The EZ-Fetch and devices like it are almost always leaving you wanting more. The sound was decent since we were using the digital audio out, but again, there was just something about the sound. Not that it sounded tinny or hollow or anything, it just lacked that rich sound you would want from an audio streamer. One of the cool things about the audio playback though is that you can select an album to play then switch over to the photo section and start a slideshow with an audio backdrop. Speaking of photos...

Photos


Image quality was not as clear as we would have liked. Like with music very few of these streaming devices can deal with photo playback. There is so much more to streaming photos then just displaying the raw file. The server serves it up and the player just plops it on the screen. There is no other real processing that takes place and that is where I think the problem lies. Most digital cameras these days embed a ton of info into the photos that could be read to make the viewing of them much more pleasant. For instance, if you happen to shoot a lot of vertically oriented photos the playback function isn't smart enough to auto-rotate the image. The info is in the file saying that it is a vertical image and just about every photo viewing application has the ability to read this and display it properly. The EZ-Fetch does have the ability to rotate the image via the remote control but that doesn't help you during a slideshow. Overall the image streaming aspect of this device is pretty lacking. Slow load times and a clunky slideshow ability. Devices with these limited embedded CPUs just can't handle the amount of data that needs to be churned in order to make a photo viewing experience worth while.

Performance


Over all the device feels very sluggish. Unlike a lot of the other devices we have tested, there is no snappiness to it. Menus load slowly and content is loaded very slowly. Dealing with our large folder of videos, for instance, it never was able to load them all in a timely manner. Granted it is very large, but any self respecting media streamer will load a portion, display that for you while it loads the rest in the background or some other sort of trick so it doesn't make you wait until it has loaded every last video. This device seems to just crap out in the process which was a deal breaker for us. The retrieving content percent stayed at 0% the entire time. If we viewed by folder it was no problem since there were far fewer folders then files, but because we have around 1100 files in our test directory it just couldn't handle it and stopped working. The device actually froze and was completely unresponsive after we left it like this for awhile. We had to hard boot in order for it to come back.

Conclusion


We had high hopes for this little guy, but the amount of negatives far outweigh the positives. Sure streaming most movies over the LAN worked well enough, but the rest of the device couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. From the slow load times to the inability to connect to our wireless network to problems dealing with large collections of files this device is just not ready for prime time. Hopefully the people over at EZ-Media will have learned some lessons from this attempt and come back strong with either another device or a severely updated firmware to address at least some of these problems. At this point we can not recommend this device to someone looking for a media streamer. There are simple to many other products on the market that are better then this.[Here and Here]

Read More in: Audio Streaming | Hands On Review | Image Streaming | Video Streaming

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Posted by David Ficocello at January 31, 2008 2:04 PM

Recent Comments

Not sure if agree with this review completely. I have add the ezfetch for a year now and think is is a really high quality UPNP streamer device, much better then the other streamers that I had from DLink.

It is better, in that it supports H.264 and is reliable and does not freeze up like the others.

I use it with TwonkyVision UPNP server for local media and recently started using PlayOn for streaming live feeds from youtube and Netflix. Netflix works great with EZFetch (just need a fast internet connection for best quality).

Now it has its drawbacks, but all of them are not because of the device itself.

1. Product support is non-existant. I've had to figure out alot of thigs myself such as movie encoding settings and other stuff. BTW use Handbake with the XBOX preset.

2. No online forum for users to share info. I would have been happy to atleast have a forum in place of real support.

3. There have not been any new firmware updates since the initial version. It would be nice to see some enhancements going into the software.

But I have to say I'm happy with the device in general and might consider buying another.


Posted by: Ray at November 4, 2008 5:27 PM
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