The Crystal Acoustics Pico HD 5.1 media player caught our eye last month when it was first announced: here was a set top box that was actually smaller than its remote control, and it was one that professed to play all sorts of HD video formats, for a low, low price. Is it win-win all around or should you stick to streaming video to your games console? Read on and find out here in our review.
Look at this thing. JUST LOOK AT IT. It’s the size of your average memory card reader, and yet it’s also packing the hardware inside to decode full HD video and pump it to your TV. There’s really nothing else like it on the market. That’s a phenomenal feat, and yet there’s still space for both a USB port and SD/MMC card slot on the front, and both HDMI output and component on the back (a component cable is included in the box). It’s made of cool black metal, is ninja assassin quiet, and aside from one small LED light to indicate power, you’ll barely see it once your movie starts playing.
There are two things to bear in mind however. The first is that this isn’t a web connected media streamer. You can’t sling video over Wi-Fi to it as you can a Boxee Box, Apple TV or PS3, and nor can you rent movies to watch on it. No, you have to acquire your video clips…”elsewhere”. We’re not going to say where, but let’s just say it’s made for pirates. Of course, it also plays image files and music as well, so you could use it to bore your relatives with a holiday slideshow.
The other issue is the remote control, which as well as being as mushy as peas from your local chippie, can be rather hard to aim accurately at the Crystal Acoustics Pico HD 5.1 media player. That’s infra-red needing direct line of sight, but as a result plugging a memory stick into the front of the player can actually obscure your view, making pausing and playing very frustrating. For forty quid though, we can see this being something you might want to put up with.
Don’t be fooled: the Crystal Acoustics Pico HD 5.1 media player will play just about everything you throw at it (MKV, DivX, XVID, AVI, M2TS, WMV9, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, TS, RM, RMVB, FLV, VOB, MOV, MP4 for video, and FLAC, MP3, OGG, WMA, WAV for audio), with Apple’s favoured AAC music format just about the only thing missing off the list. And it does it well too: 1080p video played flawlessly with surround sound and you can toggle subtitles.
In fact, the issues we have are with the fusty UI. While it splits everything neatly into media categories (video, music etc), diving down into each is a laborious process, as you can’t scroll down continuously. It’s one button push at a time, so it’s best not to keep many files in the same folder, and it also has a nasty habit of auto playing the first thing in a folder on start up, which is less than helpful.
As nifty as the Crystal Acoustics Pico HD 5.1 media player is, you probably don’t need it for HD video playback if you own a PS3 or an Xbox 360, as there are various free applications which can be used to stream video of any format over your home network. Even a Nintendo Wii can do the same in standard definition.
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Likewise, if you’ve got a set top box with USB playback support you’ll also find you have most of the same features already, albeit with a missing codec here or there. And if you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S 2 also, an MHL connector will give you all the same playback features and more on your TV, and you can achieve much the same with an iPhone 4 plugged in through an Apple HDMI connector.
There are also media streamers which can pull down video off the internet, including premium content – the second generation Apple TV does it of a fashion, while the Boxee Box brings just about everything to your TV for quite a chunk more. This media player on the other hand will only play clips you’ve already downloaded or acquired elsewhere already.
Currently we use a Western Digital media player to watch video files our PlayStation 3 turns it nose up at. It’s small and it’s not fussy. The Crystal Acoustics Pico HD 5.1 media player of course is even smaller – maybe a fifth of the size – but we don’t think it’ll replace it: the browsing issues make it far less appealing for anyone with a media player, console or USB playback Blu-ray player under their telly already. Of course, newcomers might disagree given the sub £40 pricetag. Bargain.