Icy Box IB-MP301 HDD Media Player Page: 1
Introduction

With video formats such as MPEG4, DIVX and SVCD being the 'norm' for content downloaded from the internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to simply watch your downloads on an ordinary Television. Most users opt for using conversion software to turn these exotic compressed formats into something can be written to CD or DVD and read directly by their DVD player. However, converting full length movies can be extremely time consuming and wasteful of blank media if you simply want to watch the downloaded item only once.

Many users have gone to the extreme of setting up an entire 'HTPC' setup purely for watching downloaded media. This is often very expensive as components for a whole computer system are required along with a HTPC friendly Operating System. However, German manufacturer Raidsonic may well have come up with the answer in their recently released Icy Box IB-MP301 External Media Player. Capable of reading formats such as SVCD, MPEG4, DVD, VCD, DIVX and MP3 from the internal 3.5" IDE hard disk (not included) and using its own proprietary operating system, the IB-MP301 seems to combine everything needed to take the pain out of watching your movies on the big screen.


Specifications

The following information has been taken directly from Raidsonic's website located here.

• Plays videos, music and displays picture files
• Video media: VCD, DVD, MPEG1/2/4, DIVX3.X-5.X
• Audio media: MP3
• Image media: JPEG, BMP, GIF
• File Formats: AVI, ASF, VOB, DAT, MP4, MPG
• Supports IDE 133 HDD storage capacity up to 500GB
• File system: FAT32
• Supports multi language
• Audio out: Stereo 2 Cinch (RCA)
• Video out: Composite (RCA)/VGA
• TV system: NTSC/PAL/AUTO
• 480 Mbps high-speed USB 2.0
• Supports Windows ME/XP/98, OS-9/X, Linux
• Supports software firmware upgrade online
• Remote control and panel button control
• Fan and colour LED display
• Power: 100~240 V AC IN; 5V/2A 12 V/2A DC OUT

IB-MP301 IB-MP301 IB-MP301

With support for over 15 different file formats including images and audio as well as video, the Icy Box IB-MP301 is certainly well equipped for any files downloaded from the internet that you might want to throw on it.


Icy Box IB-MP301 HDD Media Player Page: 2
Packaging

In keeping with many of the other Icy Box packaging designs (including the recently reviewed IB-NAS2000), Raidsonic have opted for a black cardboard box printed with vibrant pink graphics. This certainly makes the IB-MP301 stand out, and most definitely won't go unnoticed on retailers shelves.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Packaging

The front of the box keeps things relatively simple as not to overwhelm any potential buyers with information. Only details on supported formats along with pictures of the front and back of the Icy Box are present.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Packaging Icy Box IB-MP301 Packaging

Around the side and back of the of the box Raidsonic have gone into more detail, listing specifications such as file system support, connectivity and supported operating systems - in a total of 7 languages.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Open Box Icy Box IB-MP301 Contents

Open up the box and we can see that the Icy Box is held securely in place by a shaped cardboard insert that fits snugly around the unit. This combined with the plastic bag that the unit is placed in should provide adequate protection from any courier inflicted damage. Also included in the box are the following items to get you up and running:

• Power adapter.
• UK power cord.
• USB Cable.
• Driver Disk.
• Manual.
• Remote control.
• Composite Phono cables.


Appearance

If there's one thing the Icy Box series have never been short of, it's style. The IB-MP301 follows the same curved design as many of Icy Box's external hard disk enclosures but is mostly constructed from plastic rather than the brushed aluminium used on the IB-NAS2000.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Front Icy Box IB-MP301 Side

The front of the unit has several controls for navigating around the menu's on the device along with power and reset switches at the top. One button I would have liked to have seen on the device is 'Setup'. This is essential to configuring the unit, but only available on the remote control.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Back

Around the back of the unit you'll find a total of 6 connectors all marked with their relevent names. From bottom to top we have: a USB2 port, Left/Right Audio RCA Jacks, Video RCA Jack, VGA port for connection to a monitor, and a power connector that looks very much like a S-Video port. There's no sign of any digital outputs, but in all fairness the IB-MP301 isn't designed to be a high-end HD-Ready or Audiophile solution.

Icy Box IB-MP301 Remote

The included remote control contains all the features you'd expect to find on an average DVD player remote, and is a fair bit smaller to boot. However, it has to be said that the controller lacks any kind of style and does feel slightly tacky when pushing buttons.


Icy Box IB-MP301 HDD Media Player Page: 3
Installation

Getting the IB-MP301 up and running couldn't be easier. Simply open the side of the unit by unscrewing the four large black screws and lift out the plastic side panel. Once inside you are presented with an IDE cable and a molex connector. These need to be connected to the hard disk you have chosen for the unit (in this case an 80gb Hitachi Deskstar).

Icy Box IB-MP301 Inside Icy Box IB-MP301 Hard Disk

Once you have re-assembled the unit, connect the power and USB leads. The Icy Box will first check the hard disk is installed and then perform a quick scan of the files on it. Once this is completed, the device will be detected under Windows as a standard hard disk.

If the hard disk you've installed is brand new, it will need to be formatted using the FAT32 file system. Unfortunately, due to an operating system limitation, Windows 2000 and above are only able to format up to 32GB when using FAT32 (see Microsoft KB article here). However, Raidsonic do have a DOS based utility that can be downloaded from their website (here) that allows the disk to be formatted up to its maximum size.


Setup

With the disk installed and formatted, you will then be able to transfer files to the Icy Box and access the main setup menu using the remote control. The following images have been taken directly of my LCD display with the IB-MP301 connected.

IB-MP301 Setup IB-MP301 Setup

IB-MP301 Setup IB-MP301 Setup

IB-MP301 Setup IB-MP301 Setup

IB-MP301 Setup IB-MP301 Setup

A comprehensive range of options are available under the 6 menu headers, and navigation around the menu's is easy using either the remote control or the directional buttons on the front of the unit. One thing I did find disappointing was the lack of any options to do with the installed hard disk. In my opinion it would be beneficial for users to be able to format the hard drive using the menu system and even check the current space left available on the device without needing to connect it to a PC.


Icy Box IB-MP301 HDD Media Player Page: 4
Video Quality

For this stage of the review I will be using a selection of MPEG, VCD and DIVX files to test the video playback quality of the IB-MP301. Each file will be played simultaneously on the IB-MP301 player and via Windows Media Player 10 on a test PC. Both devices will be connected via separate VGA cables to a Xerox XA7-19i TFT monitor allowing me to freely switch between the two VGA inputs for a direct comparison.

The following images are of the IB-MP301 device only, as photographing the screen produced inconsistent images and would make for an unfair comparison if I was to place the photographs side-by-side.

IB-MP301 Screenshot IB-MP301 Screenshot

With both the downloaded music video of "The Gorillaz" and a DVD-to-MPEG conversion of the movie "Carrie", the image quality of the IB-MP301 took me by surprise. Compared to the test PC running Windows Media Player, the IB-MP301 showed much better reproduction of colours and increased image sharpness.

For completeness the IB-MP301 was also tested on a Sony Trinitron 100hz CRT TV with a selection of SVCD clips. Yet again, the IB-MP301 showed good colour reproduction and reasonable sharpness despite being connected to the TV via RCA.


Sound Quality

Being heavily into music, one of the features that attracted me most to the IB-MP301 was its ability to play MP3 files. This coupled with the fact that a hard disk of up to 500gb in size could be installed meant that I'd finally be able to play music from my large MP3 collection without needing to sift through CD's or deal with the limited size of my current MP3 player.

Testing was performed using a Sony STR-DB1080 reciever, with the IB-MP301 connected to the CD input using the included RCA plugs. For comparison I will be playing the same MP3's on a Sony DVP-NS905V DVD/CD player connected to the receiver using a toslink optical cable.

IB-MP301 + AMP

Considering the testing conditions were unfairly weighted towards the Sony DVD/CD Player (using a toslink optical connection), the IB-MP301 still managed to produce good quality sound. On playing tracks such as "Hot Chip - Over And Over", the bass reproduction was deep, punchy and still managed to seperate itself from the higher frequencies. The overall clarity could have been better, but I feel this may have been partly due to the lack of a digital output and budget quality RCA cables.


Icy Box IB-MP301 HDD Media Player Page: 5
Conclusion

With its support for over 15 different file formats including music and images, there's no doubting that the Icy Box IB-MP301 Media Player fills a hole in the market where people want to play downloaded or converted movies and music on their existing TV/Audio systems without the need for a large and expensive HTPC setup.

Transferring files to the device is a breeze thanks to its USB2 connection and automatic detection by Windows as a standard hard disk. The only problems we encountered were largely down to Windows not wanting to format the device any larger than 32GB, but a quick email to Raidsonic provided us with a simple solution.

Due to hit the market with a RRP of around £55, the IB-MP301 certainly impressed us with it's decent quality audio and video playback, but I cant help thinking how much more appeal the device would have if it had the ability to record - making it a convenient and cost effective replacement for the ageing video recorder.


Pro's
• Cost effective alternative to purchasing a HTPC setup for playing downloaded media.
• Surprisingly good quality video and audio playback.
• Support for hard disks up to 500gb, allowing plenty of space for entire DVD collections.
• Support for over 15 different formats including displaying JPEG images.
• Easy to transfer files. Device appears in Windows as a standard hard disk.

Con's
• Formatting disks greater than 32gb could be made easier.
• No 'record' function. Being able to record from the TV to MPEG would add a whole new level of usefulness to the device.
• No digital outputs for improved quality.


Recommended Award Value For $$ Award


Thanks to Raidsonic for providing this product for review. Discuss this review in our forums.