by Kane Whitlock, England
I recently purchased a Sony VAIO SZ, and with it I received a 100 voucher (which was a welcome surprise) to spend at the Sony Style online accessory store. After entering the details of my laptop I was recommended a number of products available and settled on purchasing the Sony Vaio Network Media Receiver (MR200E).
The Vaio Network Media Receiver (NMR) is a small box which connects wirelessly to your wifi network and streams music, movies and pictures from your notebook to your television screen. At 129 ($200+) it is fairly expensive for its limited purpose, but I decided to gamble as I had a large discount.
Sony Style were quick to respond to my purchase and I received a shipping notification from UPS the same day with the NMR being delivered 3 days later, which I thought was very impressive.
The specs for the NMR are as follows:
- Support for High Definition photo streaming for high resolution viewing (1080i)
- Wireless LAN: 2.4GHz wireless LAN (IEEE802.11b/g compliant) (64/128 bits WEP support)
- Weight: 1.8 lbs. (Approx)
- Dimensions (Approx): 216mm (W) x 33mm (H) x 145mm (D)
- Support for Premium DRM (Digital Rights Management) broadband contents.
- Vaio Media Version 4.5 or later required.
As soon as I received my Vaio Network Media Receiver through the post I eagerly started unpacking until I had everything out of the box, in the package I received:
- A Vaio Network Media Receiver
- A Media Receiver Remote (plus 2 x AA Batteries)
- An AC Adapter + Power cord
- An AV connection cable
- A 5m Network Cable
- A 1m Crossover Cable
- The setup CD-ROM
- Relevant Documents (i.e. Instructions, EULA & Warranty)
After excitedly un-boxing my new NMR I began setting it up; I usually skip the instructions and set up new gadgets without help, but as I wasn’t completely comfortable setting up my NMR on my own I decided to follow the full instructions. Unfortunately after following every instruction on how to get my media receiver working I was still unsuccessful in getting my receiver to locate my notebook and recognise it as a server’.
After reading and rereading the included instructions and messing around and experimenting with the wifi options I finally turned to the included CD-ROM for help (something I’m sure I would have done first if I had ignored the instructions) where I discovered a handy flash tutorial explaining exactly how to set up my receiver.
This consists of allowing the notebook to be accessed by other computers on the network in the Vaio Media options, and setting which folders I would like to be accessible. I was a little apprehensive about the many warning messages and pop-ups that I was instructed to click through, but at long last my NMR located my notebook and proceeded to access the files to which I had assigned.
I proceeded to watch video’s, look at images and listen to music; beautiful…..until the next day.
After arriving home from work and settling down to watch a movie on my NMR I soon realised that it was not working as I had expected: in fact it wasn’t working at all. After attempting to access a number of media files I seemed to be getting similar error messages. It was two hours before I found the solution, turning off my network firewall, something I didn’t really want to do. But as promised by Sony’s troubleshooting web pages, my NMR started working as soon as the firewall was switched off (in the process I had left my brand new notebook completely open to intruders).
The Network Media Receiver Box
The NMR box is very attractive: it is small (approx. half the size of my Vaio SZ), light, and aesthetically pleasing. The aerial poking out the back, I believe, doesn’t make it any less attractive but makes it look more like a router than a media receiver.
On the front of the box is the remote’s IR receiver, located next to this is the power button, this glows green when on and orange when on standby, unfortunately there is no option to completely turn off the system without unplugging it which is not suitable for those users who prefer not to have high electricity bills.
Also located on the front of the box are two other LED’s one labelled STATUS’ which flickers green when loading and processing, and the other labelled WIRELESS’ which I assume glows green when in range of the network (I could not find any explanation for this LED in the instructions).
The system seems to be well vented, and stays cool even during periods of prolonged use. Also on the side of the box is a small almost unnoticeable button labelled set up’ which, when pressed, will boot the settings screen.
On the back of the system you can see the wifi aerial along with a number of ports, these include(from the right); a Network Cable port, an Optical port, Audio and Video Out ports, an S Video Out port, Component Video Out ports, and finally the DC In port for power.
The Remote Control
The remote control included with the package, I thought, was fairly well designed. It did not feel cheap and seemed to fit well in my hand, it could have done with being slightly smaller but I would rather it were slightly larger than sacrificing any of the useful buttons.
One nice surprise I found with the remote was the ability to use the remote as your television remote also, which I thought would turn out to be very handy as I would not need two remotes cluttering up my desk. This process involved entering the relevant code assigned to your television manufacturer from a table in the instructions. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in getting this to work, which is a shame as I would have liked to use this feature (there was a note explaining that the feature was not compatible with all television sets).
Another difficulty I found was the unresponsiveness of the remote when fast forwarding and rewinding video (see viewing video’), and moving around menus, something which I hope is a software problem will be fixed in future firmware updates.
The user interface of the Vaio Network Media Receiver is very attractive and seems to have taken many design cues from Microsoft’s Windows Media Centre interface. (they could have perhaps used the psp’ style interface instead)
On start up you are given a list of servers on your network one of which you must select to proceed, you are then given a list of options all centred around music, with the final option being Registered Files which allows you to access all your assigned file content.
The menus are easy to understand, but slow; I found myself repeatedly selecting items which did not appear to respond and therefore repressing the select button on the remote and finding myself looking in a file that I did not want, I’m unsure as to what caused this, but hopefully it can be fixed in future updates.
A few things I feel Sony should have considered are:
1. Some form of customization, perhaps being able to select images as backgrounds or having the ability to delete certain items from menus; for instance the many different options on the main menu for music (which I, so far, have not used).
2. A search option, for which the consumer can use to find specific files instead of exploring the many files and folders that they have assigned.
I found it relatively easy to view pictures on the NMR, and there was no apparent loss of picture quality, in fact on most pictures they appeared much better on my LCD television screen than on my small 13.3 inch laptop screen. The Zoom option seems to be none existent, so when observing large pictures it can sometimes be very difficult to view to the image properly.
Viewing videos was easy but a few glitches seemed to emerge as I tried to fast forward and rewind video, the media receiver was unresponsive when fast forwarding, it would not fast forward until I had pressed the fast forward button on the remote around three times at which point it would fast forward at the fastest setting.
It was then again unresponsive when trying to stop fast forwarding and would often go past where I wanted to play from, sometimes even getting to the end of the video before the Network Media Receiver responded.
I also found when trying to watch video some of my video files were incompatible with the video playing facility on my NMR, they either would not play, or simply did not appear on screen. At first I assumed that this problem was because of an incompatible file format, but on inspection found that many of these files were either in .avi’ or .wmv’ format which are formats supposedly supported by the player. I ended up converting most of these files into the other format for instance .wmv’ into .avi’ and visa- versa which seemed to solve the problem, but I’m still intrigued as to what caused the glitch.
Apart from those few problems the video playing facility was first-rate, so far I have not experienced the video jumping or freezing (even when set to the highest picture quality) and the picture is of a high standard even at the lowest setting, which I thought was outstanding.
Listening to music
Music playback was straightforward and well set out, with good responsiveness when fast forwarding and rewinding through tracks. Sound quality was not an issue, but I much preferred playing my music through my external speakers than through my TV speakers, and therefore rarely used this feature.
I was happy to find that all information and album art that I had collected in iTunes appeared on my TV screen automatically.
One feature that I feel would make audio playback more user-friendly would be the ability to search; having to scroll through hundreds of tracks to find the one I want is a process too time-consuming to bother starting.
After using the Vaio Network Media Receiver for two weeks I am not overly impressed; the ability to listen to music, look at images and watch videos on my television was fun but not worth 129 (I’m glad I didn’t pay the full price).
I feel that the NMR was rushed, and necessary features were either forgotten or missed out. I also assume that Sony neglected to fully test the product before selling it as many features either do not work or are unreliable.
With a complete firmware update I’m sure the Network Media Receiver would be a strong product as video and music playback perform well and make it worth connecting to your TV.
All in all I would not recommend the Vaio Network Media Receiver to other consumers until Sony has released some form of patch that confronts all the [fairly large] glitches that I have come to notice.
- High quality Video and Audio playback
- Attractive design and small form factor
- Simple UI
- Nice enough remote
- Recognises most file formats
- Hard to setup and run
- Slow and unresponsive when browsing menus and fast forwarding/rewinding video
- No option to switch off completely (stays in standby unless the power cable is removed)
- No zoom option when viewing images
- No search option when browsing menus.
- No customization options.