Fun with media players

In a moment of weakness, I bought a NETGEAR EV2000 “Digital Entertainer Live” in “Hardly Normal” the other week. I’ve been praying for some of my older media gear (DVD players etc) to die spectacularly so I can justify an new Gigabyte Micro ATX MB and the rest of the kit to build a Media PC. Alas, Alack – Panasonic kit is almost too good. Every bit of Panasonic kit we own – including our (now) 8 YO Home Theatre just keeps on trucking. I recently bought a 42″ Panasonic plasma (just HD – I can’t tell the difference with 1080p) and its fabulous. Great picture, solid remote etc and only $799.

The EV2000 looked the goods and it was on special for $160 with an included HDMI cable. That price was before a 30% Weekend discount. Its a small black box with the normal NETGEAR clear bezel. In the back is

  • HDMI
  • Power
  • Composite Video and Audio on a 3.5mm jack
  • 10/100 RJ-45 Ethernet
  • 2 x USB ports

Getting it connected was trivial. We have full walk in headroom under the house so I’ve wired Cat5 up to the back of the TV which is the only way to fly. The EV found my main computer (E8400 Win7 HP) and the UPNP Windows Media Player almost straight away. All my media is on this computer so this is where the EV needed to be. This is where the issues began.

The EV would find the WMP and then I’d get a really variable “user experience”. Sometimes it would find media and begin to play. Most of the time, the “Wait a bit I’m working” icon would appear and then about 3 times out of 5 it would exit back to the main menu after giving up. There are no user settings that relate to getting at system logs so figuring out what was happening was frustrating. I tried for a couple of hours and (wrongly) concluded I’d bought a dud. I tried all sorts of things including

  • XMBC
  • The EV included PlayON software
  • Some bodgy web based UPNP media streamer
  • etc etc

Nothing seemed to work.

Next step was to package it up and try to return it. Hardly’s didn’t want to know about it and stated that I couldn’t return it until I’d contacted Netgear support for an RMA.

It sat in the box for about 2 weeks and then I rang NETGEAR. The guy on the other end took all my details and reckoned that as this device was a “specialist” class box, someone would get back to me within the hour. This never happened but I did some more hunting around and noticed that my “WMPNetworksvc” was running at 50% of the processor time. This is the Windows Media Player (WMP) network streaming service. As this is a dual core machine, I effectively had this one process monopolising one core. Hmm. I dragged my laptop out and the EV connected perfectly, smooth easy navigation and great playback.

Obviously the EV wasn’t connecting reliably as the WMPNetworksvc was busy off doing something else. Figuring out what was causing this 100% utilisation didn’t take long. Google of course. I don’t know how we did support without it (mind you it was REALLY simpler in those days too). Some threads indicated that WMP gets its knickers in a knot if it finds corrupt AVI’s. I pared the WMP libraries back to just my music collection (It took me a day to rip all those CD’s) and “voila” the EV is now working perfectly. 

When I was trying to debug, I had it hooked up to a LCD monitor with a pair of Logitech stereo speakers (the TV is in another room) and the sound was fine. I have 2 pairs of these speakers, one set is hooked up as the computer speakers and at the time, the other set was hooked to the EV. The sound was noticeably better from the EV. The M/B in the E8400 (I sometimes really wish I’d bought the Quad) is a Gigabyte with the default ALC chipset – its not going to be anything amazing – but I was very surprised at the difference between the 2 devices on the same speakers. Next step was to hook it back up to the stereo / panel and now it works brilliantly.

I took a couple of hours to re-sort my media collection – basically getting it all into folders based on artist and then album. Things are much easier to find. The only criticism of the is the you can’t (for example) select artists by first letter – the device provides an onscreen keyboard for YouTube – this makes scanning through the list a bit tedious. Still, its pretty quick and some judicious use of playlists should help.

At some time I now have to go through the video collection and find the corrupt AVI. That’s something for another day. That said Microsoft need to revise the code for the WMP sharing service and get it to “get over” media that it can’t figure out.

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