Vizo have got their finger in every pie, with hard disc enclosures, card readers and PC fans. But today I have a more interesting product, a hard disc enclosure. But not just any hard disc enclosure, this box contains the usual USB interface, but also acts as a stand-alone media centre playing audio and video. Lets have a look…
VIZO MIP-100, 3.5” PORTABLE HDD ENCLOSURE & MULTIMEDIA PLAYER, is no longer just an external storage, but also a music/movie theatre for you. MIP-100 features the high performance Sigma Designs Chipset which supports the present artery multimedia format and supports hard disks with up to 500GB capacity, which is enough to save 500 films, exceed 150,000 MP3 music, or 1,000,000 pieces high distinctive digital photos. With all-in-one design and easy-to-use wizard interface, you can enjoy movie, photo and music with a touch the remote control, moreover, back up and transfer your data storage for your needs.
- Sigma Designs chipset
- Support JPEG/MP3/WMA/OGG, MPEG1/2/4 and Divx multimedia format
- Provide high speed USB2.0interface, optical transfer, the HDTV high distinctive output technology which is up to 1080i
- Support front panel control and remote control (IR)
- Digital Multimedia Player via TV
- USB 2.0 External Storage via PC( FAT32/NTFS )
- Audio – Stereo, Digital AC3 5.X CH. Surround Sound
- Video – Composite, HD Component 480p, 720p, 1080i
- DVD Manager – Playback of DVD File same as Original DVD Title ( IFO/ISO)
- Support Languages : English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
- Interface : 480Mbps USB 2.0 (USB 1.1 Compatible)
- HDD Type : 3.5″ IDE HDD – Maximum Capacity up to 500G
- HDD Format Support : FAT32/NTFS
- TV Type : NTSC / PAL
- Power Supply : AC/DC Power Adapter – ( AC input : 100~240 Vac, DC output : +5V/+12V )
- Weight : 395 g (without HDD)
- Dimensions : 202.5(L) x 115(W) x 36.5(H) mm
– MPEG-1(.AVI; .MP*.DAT)
– MPEG-2(.AVI; .VOB; .IFO; .ISO)
– MPEG-4(.AVI; .DIVX3.11; .DIVX4.XX;.DIVX5.XX; DIVX VOD; XVID)
- Music: MP3, MP2, WAV, WMA, AC3, AAC, OGG VORBIS, DTS pass through
- Photo: JPG/JPEG up to 8 Mega pixel (baseline and progressive)
- Available OS: Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP/Vista
Look out Gucci, Milano has been released
The Milano comes in a well-designed box that looks interesting and up-to-date. The blocks of colour, filled with text go a long way to explain what this product does and how it’s better than the competition.
Once out of the box, you’ll find a whole bunch of cables (USB, AV cable, power cable + adaptor and S-Video/YPbPr), the manual, a remote control with batteries, screws and a stand. You’ll also get the Milano itself.
Made out of plastic and weighing it at a poultry 395g minus HDD, it doesn’t have the quality or presence that most peripherals claim. The logo on the side does look pretty good, and if you didn’t know that it was made out of plastic, you would be perfectly happy with it.
The front of the Milano has a plethora of buttons, with the biggest being the power button, below this is the IR sensor allowing the remote to send commands. Beneath this are 8 buttons in columns which consist of play, stop, up, down, left, right, music and setup. All of these will make the built-in media player do its stuff.
On the back you’ll find the PC interface connection which is only USB; no sign of eSATA. There are also ports for the S-Video/YPbPr cable, AV out, optical audio out and the usual power in. As the box has the ability to pump out HD quality pictures, a nice HDMI port could have been in order, but there is still enough connectivity to hook this thing up to your HDTV.
Inside you’ll find where the Milano goes wrong. First of all, you can see circuit boards and wires. While that will far from scare off any knowledgeable person from installation, the usual PC user may be a little reluctant to install something that they have no idea about. Second, you can only use an IDE drive. Considering as SATA was released in 2003, you would have thought that 4 years on, manufactures would support this as standard; not only would there be increased speed, but smaller cabling inside.
Fortunately there are no confusing jumpers or pins to short inside unlike the older Vizo Luxon which needs a little bit of fiddling to get right.
Another major issue is the lack of any kind of cooling whatsoever. The only part where air flow has been considered are the small holes at the rear which are far from adequate. As this will be used to constantly read data from (i.e. a film) the drive is going to start sweating, especially as there are no instructions in the manual to at least allow for ventilation.
To install a hard disc, you simply have to take out the metal bracket and screw the hard disc into place, you could even forgo this step. The bracket and cables do keep the drive pretty secure, but if this enclosure is going to do the rounds, the screws are a good idea. There are no rubber vibration grommets in the enclosure so there is a good chance it will rumble in use.
Once screwed in, you plug the IDE and molex in the back (after first changing the jumper telling the enclosure that it’s a master drive on its own) and then slot the bracket + HDD into place. Not the easiest installation for the average PC user.
The manual goes a long way to helping though, especially with the pictures on where to put the hard disc jumper and how to install.
Once installed, you have to make sure that the disc is formatted to either FAT32 or NTFS. If you pop in an unformatted disc, then the drive will just hang on startup.
Once everything is where it should be, all you have to do is press the power button. It lights up blue and pulsates when it’s reading information from the hard disc.
Soon my TV switched on and I was ready to play. I’d installed a standard Western Digital 80GB IDE drive which was taken directly from one of our folding machines which we store all of our music on and play over the network.
Once the HDD had been scanned, I was presented with an explorer-esque view of the disc’s contents. My first port of call was the setup pages which oddly require time to load up. You can change all sorts of uninteresting things, such as brightness, contrast, video output, subtitle location and colour, slideshow time to name a few. Interestingly there is an option to output FM, which the included manual completely misses even though it has a screen shot of it. After a few minutes testing, I can say that it doesn’t work which is a shame.
You can also update the cut down version of Linux that the box runs on courtesy of the firmware update tab.
Playing video was an epic pain. It took 4 restarts before it would even begin to play the fully Xvid compliant movie which the box should support. Once playing however, it did the job and you can mess around with all sorts of things, including zoom and fast forward/rewind (up to 128 times). There are options for subtitles if you are playing a ripped DVD, forward/backward chapters, bookmark and A-B repeat. Once playing however, the quality was good, frame rates excellent, and no blockiness during fast moving scenes. I’m sure this product would look great on a massive HDTV screen.
At this point I realised how poorly laid out the remote was. It looks like a stock outer case that has been printed on to Vizo’s specs. It sits well in your hand and is comfortable to use, but the buttons are all over the place. For example, you would expect the MP3 and video buttons to be next to each other, but they are nearly at opposite ends of the remote. The navigate buttons are also oddly spaced and the page up and page down buttons aren’t capitalized like the rest of the labels. Overall it looks like a cheap extra rather than a truly usable remote.
Playing MP3’s was a difficult process too. The player doesn’t go any deeper than one folder, which means that if you have all of your music nicely laid out in folders, it won’t be a lot of fun adding them to the playlist. Pressing the MP3 button on the remote consistently brought up a screen saying that the folder was being read before the Milano would lock up.
If you have all your music in one folder then playing is easy, and the MP3 player works well. Sorting your music or searching it is also impossible meaning that your only option is shuffle or clicking next a lot. Considering as you can have up to 150,000 MP3’s on the Milano, this doesn’t seem like a great idea. However, if you have the words to the song in a iRiver file, you can play karoke with the Milano.
Powering the Milano, and advertised on the box, is a Sigma Designs chip which (after I took the Milano apart) is an EM8511LF. This chip supports a whole lot of fun stuff including full DVD playback support, IDE interface which should work with CompactFlash, hard discs and optical drives, and HD output. The chip runs at 200mhz with 16mb of memory dedicated to video.
Incidentally, as the chip supports using an optical drive, I decided I would burn a CD with a load of music files on, then connect a DVD drive to the IDE cable rather than a HDD. The DVD would spin, and the CD was read, but the Milano complained that there was no HDD present. As the Milano has a firmware update function, and runs Linux, it’ll only be a matter of time till a hacker stamps his mark on the software.
Speaking of which, the firmware feels like its generic, and in no way customised by Vizo. The FM transmit option being one, the rather boring ‘skin’ and no mention of Vizo throughout. If these little issues were worked out, this would feel like a much more professional product, rather than an HDD enclosure with media abilities tacked on.
As with other enclosures, we ran SiSoft Sandra XI to gain an insight into the speed of the enclosure.
This time, we will be comparing against Vizo’s other enclosure, the Luxon and the Silverstone MS04. All of the enclosures are using the same IDE 80GB Western Digital drive.
Each test was repeated three times and the results averaged for fair and accurate results. If one of these tests was very different from the others. The whole set of tests were scrapped and the testing repeated.
As you can see, the Milano is the worst performing of the lot. The additional circuitry required to make the Milano do its media thing/thang have lowered the overall efficiency of the USB transfer. The Luzon shows a much better speed that will be easily noticed when transferring large files. As the Milano can have a 500GB drive maximum, it would take ~290 minutes to fill (500000 / 1.024 = 488461, 488461 / 28mb/s = 17438s, 17438s / 60 = ~290 minutes) compared to 208 minutes for the MS04 via FireWire. Smaller files fly onto the Milano, but movies are a little bit more sluggish.
An eSATA connection would improve these results as USB isn’t the fastest connection to your PC anymore. In fact, as USB has to send more ‘command’ signals per piece of data, the slower rated FireWire is actually faster as less ‘command’ signals are sent. eSATA overcomes these problems as it has a larger bandwidth allowing for more data and ‘command’ signals.
The Milano has just been released, and hence isn’t widely available. I expected the price to be in the range of £30-50. Unfortunately, I could only find it going for £70 ($140) which seems a little steep for a slow performing enclosure, even with media functions.
My guess is that the one shop that has it is charging a premium
for the fact that only they have it. In the future I would expect the price to drop.
Vizo have had a great idea, provide an enclosure with a purpose above just storing information. However, this implementation isn’t without its flaws. Sluggish transfers, clunky menus, and generic theme and remote. The Milano feels like a proof-of-concept rather than a full blown media centre. It’s a shame as I feel that this could really be useful, imagine taking all of your movies round to your mate’s house, rather than 3-4 DVD’s. The digital generation is all about choice, which the Milano can offer.
A simple firmware update and redesigned remote would go a long way to making this product stand out; it’s just a shame that little more effort hasn’t been put in.
|Fantastic idea||Poor implementation|
|Small, looks good||No cooling|
|HDTV output ability||No support for SATA or eSATA|
|Poor media firmware|
I’d like to thank Vizo for providing us with the enclosure.
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