Like many companies, Hewlett-Packard is building bridges between your PC and your living room -- the most comfortable location for viewing digital media. The company's latest spans are its 37-inch SLC3760N MediaSmart television (US$2,199) and its mv2020 Media Vault network-attached storage drive (US$549). The MediaSmart TV was first announced earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; the Media Vault is being announced today. Both products are now shipping.
TV with network smarts
The MediaSmart TV's native resolution is 1366 by 768p -- not high enough for displaying Blu-ray or HD DVD discs at full, native 1080p resolution, but more than adequate for HDTV broadcasts and standard-definition DVD playback.
The TV's hook is that it will display photos, albums, and video streamed over your home network without requiring you to set up a stand-alone digital media adapter (DMA) to serve as the link between your network (and its content) and your television. The MediaSmart TV has a DMA on its back; the adapter includes both a 10/100 ethernet port and 802.11a/b/g wireless for connecting to your home network's router. The MediaSmart's adapter provides three other ports as well -- including an HDMI one -- that connect back into the TV itself to complete the data circuit between network and display. Having to attach three cables from one part of the TV to another seems a bit counterintuitive, but the result is seamless, remote control access to the media files on your network from the comfort of your couch or chair.
The Media Smart TV supports Windows Media Connect and PlaysForSure, and it will work with any Digital Living Room Network Alliance or universal-plug-and-play-compatible (UPnP) device. Most newer network-attached storage drives -- including Buffalo Technology's TeraStation Home Server, Maxtor's Shared Storage Plus, and Infrant's ReadyNAS NV -- support this standard. I tested the SLC3760N in conjunction with HP's Media Vault, however, to see how the two products together handled the streaming media experience.
Living room stream
In my hands-on tests, the MediaSmart TV connected without a fuss to the network and instantly recognized the Media Vault as a UPnP media server. I could easily access photos and videos and play various music files. File formats supported by the MediaSmart TV include AVI, DVR-MS, DivX (MPEG-4), MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-2, WMV, and WMV-HD for video; BMP, GIF, JPEG, and PNG for photos, and MP2, MP3, WMA, and WMA-Pro for audio. Unfortunately, it doesn't handle AAC files, so iPod users won't be able to stream protected AAC music from iTunes to their TV.
The MediaSmart's on-screen interface easy to learn and use, and I found the TV's functionality well-integrated with the remote control. Still, I wish that HP had included exit options on the on-screen menus; that way, I could have browsed content using the remote's "select" button instead of having to rely on the separate "back" button to backtrack.