The Freecom MediaPlayer II is a 500GB network media drive.

Freecom would have you believe that getting your video and photos on to your main TV or your hi-fi is as simple as plugging it in to the mains and switching it on. The paucity of setup information provided with the package certainly suggests as much, but if you want to use the Freecom MediaPlayer II wirelessly, you need an accompanying USB wireless network adaptor.

You'll also have to persuade the Freecom MediaPlayer II to find your wireless network - something this drive had more trouble with than the other ones we tested. Perhaps the lack of wireless antenna is part of the issue.

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You can use a wired LAN or Ethernet setup if you prefer, but if Wi-Fi is your mode of choice, you may need a few attempts before your network is recognised and you can begin entering your login details. As with many such media streaming devices, the Freecom MediaPlayer II has a remote control with a navipad that you use to shuttle left and right selecting successive characters in your WEP/WPA login.

The Freecom MediaPlayer II box itself is smart - a silver rectangle with rounded edges and a black cladding. Depending on the version you choose, you either get a barebones system with just the media management software or, as in the case of our review sample, a 500GB hard drive that can be used to play video, photos and music to any device to which it's directly connected.

We hooked it up to our TV using an HDMI cable - you need to buy your own.

Curiously, Freecom supplies a square USB to standard male USB cable, along with an Ethernet cable. However, most portable hard drives and MP3 players we've tried have mini USB connections, so we needed an adapter before being able to use our Iomega eGo which we then plugged in to the USB host port (so we couldn't use it while simultaneously having a Wi-Fi connection active.)

Happily, once we'd negotiated some of these obstacles, we were able to start listening. The Freecom MediaPlayer II recognised and played the albums we'd downloaded from Amazon's MP3 portal, though it doesn't automatically play all tracks or proceed to play the next track. Albums are displayed like documents in a folder and tree structure - we thought Freecom could have done a little more with the interface, at least stretching to shuffle or play all options.

When viewing photos you can press the left and right buttons to rotate shots that weren't taken as landscape shots (there's a separate next/previous toggle button to the left of the navipad), but the player is unforgiving of non-standard aspect ratios and didn't know what to make of those taken in 16:9 ratio. Curiously, it had no such issue with the panorama shot we'd created.

The lower part of the remote control offers some playback options allowing you to zoom in on a video scene, view or hide subtitles or adjust the display aspect ratio or initiate slow-mo for which it has a comprehensive set of playback settings.

However, we were disappointed to find that this unit can't play H.264 Mpeg4 video - likely to be the most common format for user-generated video content for the foreseeable future. We had no trouble getting the Freecom MediaPlayer II to play either 720p or 1,080i HD video from our DivX test files. We'd like to have been able to do so using the Wi-fi connection, however, but the Freecom just didn't want to play ball.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

Freecom MediaPlayer II: Specs

  • 500GB 3.5in network hard drive
  • Ethernet and LAN
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g supported via optional wireless network adapter
  • Jpeg photo and photo slideshow playback
  • PAL NTSC TV systems
  • MP3, WAV, AAC and Ogg Vorbis audio playback (max 192Kbps)
  • Mpeg 1, 2 & 4, MKV (not H.264) video codec, DiVx 720 and 1,08p, VOB video playback
  • BitTorrent client
  • TCP/IP and BT Samba server/client support
  • dimensions: 160x203x44mm
  • weight: 2.25kg
  • 500GB 3.5in network hard drive
  • Ethernet and LAN
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g supported via optional wireless network adapter
  • Jpeg photo and photo slideshow playback
  • PAL NTSC TV systems
  • MP3, WAV, AAC and Ogg Vorbis audio playback (max 192Kbps)
  • Mpeg 1, 2 & 4, MKV (not H.264) video codec, DiVx 720 and 1,08p, VOB video playback
  • BitTorrent client
  • TCP/IP and BT Samba server/client support
  • dimensions: 160x203x44mm
  • weight: 2.25kg

OUR VERDICT

The Freecom MediaPlayer II is likable enough in terms of looks, but it has a very basic, outdated onscreen menu system, not enough connection options or playback formats and is ultimately overshadowed by better-specced, better value and more attractive media streamers.

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