HornetTek Mirage HDD Media Player (1080i) Review
We live in the multimedia age that is ever growing and has created wonderful possibilities. Never before has there been various ways where we can attain and enjoy media on our personal computers. We have a vast variety of media to enjoy such as high definition videos that we can download, video blogs that we can watch, and streaming media such as YouTube that we can enjoy. There has never been a better era to live in and the fact that these technologies are still advancing makes it so interesting to look forward to.
Now what if there was a way to interconnect the media we have on our computers and bring these to the comfort of our living room. Today we have that possibility by building our own home theatre PC but now there are standalone units that are being sold as media players where we can view all types of video on our HDTV’s.
Today I will be reviewing one such media player from HornetTek that looks to invade the market with an affordable 1080i HD media player solution that you can use to play all sorts of video, photos and listen to MP3’s and transfer files easily with its one touch copy feature. Introducing the HornetTek Mirage HDD Media Player review.
“As one of the leading peripheral enclosure solution provider, HornetTek specializes in Storage and Multimedia External Enclosure solutions and we constantly offer state-of-the-art design of hard disk enclosure to provide user-friendly peripherals to consumers at all ranges. HornetTek is a global peripheral enclosure provider with manufacturing facility located in China since 1999. We deliver high quality standard products at competitive price in which provide our customers has an excellent opportunity to be successful in the competitive International Enclosure marketplace.
HornetTek Mirage Product Overview
“The Mirage is a portable multimedia player designed for 3.5" SATA I /II HDD.
The Mirage comes with USB 2.0 interface that features a high speed data transfer rate of up to 480Mbit/sec. Equipped with video and audio output ports, The Mirage serves as a powerful media player bringing you a portable movie theatre in your hands. Remote control-media mate assists playing movies, music, and pictures. User-friendly remote buttons and a step-by-step menu direct you to your multimedia preference. While operating, internal 5cm fans are designed to keep the enclosure cool to protect the HDD. PAL and NTSC formats adjustability fits almost all standard TV’s around the world. With the casing designed in rigid aluminum, it provides a full metal shield for heat dissipation and sufficient EMI control. The Mirage is a perfect companion with your DV and digital cameras and is the best choice to share and play your world.”
HornetTek Mirage Product Features
HornetTek Mirage Product Specifications
The HornetTek Mirage comes in an attractive looking corrugated box with a carry handle on top. The box is pretty big yet compact because all the contents are squeezed in wasting no space. The initial package weighs close to 9lbs so the plastic carrying handle is a nice addition.
Opening up the $119.99US package will reveal the following items…
This looks to be a pretty complete bundle. A wireless USB dongle (wireless networking is supported) and HDMI cable are both optional items but I don’t think I could have asked for anything else except for one thing that is missing; a screwdriver. HornetTek should have included a small screwdriver in the bundle as I’ve seen these bundled with other inexpensive enclosures. It’s a small gripe but it would have been convenient.
The things that are bundled with the HornetTek Mirage are highly sufficient to do the job (minus the wireless USB dongle) and the component cable can do everything the HDMI can do, just with a few more cables. Networking is still possible as you can use the old trusty wired Ethernet cable. I especially like the fact that a vertical stand is included and will save some footprint in within your HDTV cabinets.
Let us now go over the HornetTek Mirage enclosure. The enclosure looks to be like any other 3.5” hard drive enclosure but being a little bigger in width and length. You can tell right away by the front fascia that it’s not your usual enclosure. The whole enclosure is a very solid aluminum designed enclosure with metal internals so it’s not the lightest out there but be assured of strength and ability to dissipate hard drive heat away.
The front fascia contains a glossy plastic face with various basic playback and navigation functions with indicator LED’s to indicate power on/off, hard drive activity and more. From left to right we see the power on/off LED, recording LED, one touch copy LED, irDA receiver, return guide button, stop button, power on/off button, enter (play) button, right button, left button, up button, down button, and one touch copy button.
One of the cool things about the HornetTek Mirage is the fact that it contains an easy one touch copy function that enables you to transfer files from a USB mass storage drive or a memory card (SD/MS) to the internal hard drive which I find to work brilliantly and is very convenient to have. These ports sit in the bottom right hand corner. Additionally if you choose not to transfer to the hard drive, you can play your media off your USB mass storage drive or memory stick. The HornetTek Mirage is very flexible.
Now we turn to where all the magic happens, the rear of the Mirage. I love how HornetTek have installed protective covers on the component and coaxial ports. Let us look from where the DC 12V port lays and move across. Moving across we see the component video jack, composite video jack (AV out), AV In port, USB mini connector, HDMI connector, Ethernet port, Fiber Optical (TOSLINK) port, coaxial output jack, power on/off switch and a small exhaust fan.
The HornetTek Mirage has a very nice look brushed aluminum look on the outside. Unfortunately being black in color doesn’t help it in regards to fingerprints. Oily hands will leave fingerprints on the outside no doubt. And this isn’t the cheap brushed aluminum laminate look, this is the real deal. The Mirage’s aluminum cover is pretty thick and will definitely inspire confidence in its strength if it were ever involved in a drop.
Installation is one easy deal with the HornetTek Mirage. From the rear of the unit, you remove the two middle edge screws and the aluminum casing slides out to give you access to the hard drive tray.
Once you pull out the aluminum casing, you are presented with the hard drive tray. Installing a hard drive is too easy with the HornetTek Mirage. All you do is line up the hard drive with the mount points, connect the bundled SATA/power cable and screw down four screws so that the hard drive is secured. Once that is complete, simply slip on the aluminum casing and secure the unit by screwing those two left over screws that you have.
A little more about the internals
The HornetTek Mirage is a media player that supports a maximum high definition resolution of 1080i (interlaced) so you can get pretty good picture at this resolution. Natively it can play back a wide variety of codec’s such as MPEG 1 (MPG, DAT), MPEG2 (VOB, MPG, TS), MPEG4 (AVI/DIVX/XVID) but unfortunately it’s missing some codec’s that you will come across that it does not play natively but only can be played through the network with the included transcoding software.
Such codec’s I am referring to are ones such as MKV, RMVB, WMV, MP4 and H.264. I figure that since the Mirage is firmware upgradable they should include those codec’s in native playback in the future, it’ll make so much difference. For example, I couldn’t play anime that I have in MKV, MP4 or WMV format unless I converted them to another codec such as .AVI which adds an extra inconvenient step that is frankly annoying.
The Mirage is controlled by Realtek’s 256-pin RTD1262 HD MPEG1/2/4 decoder with MPEG2/4 encoder through HDMI and contains Ethernet capability. The Realtek RTD1262 can do high definition playback, media recording, time shifting, wireless/wired networking and mass storage capability all which the HornetTek Mirage manages to accomplish.
Other notable things to talk about is that the Mirage contains 8MB NOR serial flash for future upgradeability and 16-bit 32MB DDR SDRAM for playback performance. The internal card reader that is installed in the Mirage is Realtek’s own RTS5156 SD/MS card reader, the high-speed USB to IDE bridge controller in the Mirage is that from Prolific Technology (PL-2506) and the SATA bridge chip comes from JMicron (JM20330).
The HornetTek Mirage comes with a full-size yet compact feeling remote control. It very much reminds me and looks like a Samsung remote I used in the past and that’s not a bad thing. The layout is very well done with buttons logically placed and sufficient icons/labels on the buttons. And the buttons on the remote feel tactile and just well done. Needless to say, I really like this remote. The only downside is that the buttons do not have any backlight or glow in the dark. But with the remote being logically placed, the button placement is easy to remember.
Results - Is it any good? How does it work?
Turning on the HornetTek Mirage is very simple as you can power on from the unit itself or the remote control. The remote control is also very sensitive as it will respond and execute commands as soon as a function is pressed. The unit’s irDA receiver works wonderful as the remote doesn’t need to be directly pointed to the unit for things to happen meaning it works at many different angles.
Once turned on, you are presented with the main screen where you have five main options (Video In, File Copy, Browser, Setup and Timer REC). You navigate through the options with the remote controls directional pad or on the unit’s front fascia controls. Navigation is very simple and a logical process. Below each selected menu option lays a small tidbit of what that menu entails.
The first thing that will happen once you boot up for the first time, as the manual states, is to format the hard drive for the first time. If that does not happen that means you’re hard drive was already pre-formatted as it is advised to format within the enclosure. Head into the ‘Setup’ menu and you are presented with a number of different submenus and options to tweak (System, Video, Audio, REC, Photo, and Network).
Head over to ‘HDD Format’ to begin formatting the hard drive. Follow the instructions and you are given the option to format either in NTFS or FAT32 or both with percentages that you can select. In all seriousness, just format the full hard drive into FAT32 as this enables the one touch copy feature and recording support. If you format in NTFS, these features do not work so there is really no point to format in NTFS.
Once formatting is completed, I would suggest you head back into ‘Setup’ and go into the ‘Video’ menu and head into the ‘TV System’ submenu to verify that it in NTSC mode and select 1080i 60Hz or HDMI Auto (if you’re connected via HDMI). Also change ‘Aspect Ratio’ to fit your television screen (16:9 for HDTV).
The great thing about the HornetTek Mirage is the fact that you can watch videos, play music, and view photos without ever uploading the files to the internal hard drive. You don’t even need to have a hard drive inside for the Mirage to work. You can do everything off of your USB flash drive making the Mirage very flexible in the way it works.
Let’s pretend that you have a hard drive installed and would like to transfer files from a USB drive or memory stick onto the hard drive. The Mirage supports file copy that is easy and convenient to use. From the main menu select ‘File Copy’. Now you are presented with a source and destination window like an FTP program. On the source side, select either USB or CARD and find the files you want to transfer. Press the play button on the remote control to select each file (up to eight files can be transferred at a time) and once that is complete, navigate to the destination and head into your HDD and transfer your file to an existing folder or make a new folder. Press the right directional pad to copy to the HDD. Additionally you can delete the files off your hard drive, USB or SD card at later dates. This is too good!
To prove that File Copy is fast, I transferred 872MB from my USB drive to the Mirage in 3 minutes and 32 seconds.
Now let’s now talk about how the videos play on this HornetTek Mirage and if it’s any good. Before I head on, I forgot to mention how visually pleasing the main menu is. The icons look pretty cool and it definitely has the Linux look. I applaud the software developers for creating such an easy interface to work with and creating menus that look visually pleasing and not boring.
Okay now we head into ‘Browser’ to view what we have on our hard drive. Once inside we see a listing of sources (USB, CARD, HDD, NET and Playlist) that we can select. Let’s head into HDD for instance. We are given a new window that showcases a directory map on the left pane and a preview window on the right pane. When you go over each file, the Mirage automatically play previews the video on the right pane window giving the name, size and duration of the file. Press the play button on the remote to play in full screen mode.
Now the video is playing in full screen mode and functions that you press on the remote will be executing as the video plays. For example hitting ‘Setup’ on the remote brings up the setup menu where you can adjust the contrast and brightness of the picture. You can increase the volume up/down by pressing that on the remote and the onscreen display will confirm this. Hitting ‘Display’ on the remote will bring up the duration of the video among other items.
Under operation, the HornetTek Mirage performs as well as it can get. Fast forwards and rewinds are quickly executed with little lag and with no problems. Skipping forward 10 seconds by pressing ‘CM Skip’ is executed with no troubles. Basically what I’m saying is within my weeks testing the Mirage, I have found it to be free of bugs so the software developers have done a great job at covering just about all you really need and more. They saw their vision of how they wanted the Mirage to act and feel and their execution was perfect.
I tried a variety of codec’s with the Mirage and all that was advertised worked as they should. VOB’s played like they were on a DVD player meaning you could navigate the menus with your remote control, bring up subtitles by pressing ‘subtitle’ on the remote, change the audio format on the fly, etc.
Unfortunately as I mentioned before that some codec’s are not natively supported meaning you need to convert them to a natively supported codec format or use the transcoding software to play them in real-time over a wired/wireless network if you have one. That can be annoying as you will come across file formats such as MP4, WMV, and MKV that are not that uncommon that doesn’t work natively out of the box. Like I said, I hope HornetTek can produce a firmware upgrade that will play these codec’s natively. That would be absolutely amazing if that could be done.
As for the cooling aspect of the HornetTek Mirage, it fairs very well as the enclosure is surrounding by real aluminum that can dissipate heat quickly through the small 50mm exhaust fan at the back of the unit. The small little exhaust fan is quiet and produces just a small hum that will be drowned out under usage.
The HornetTek Mirage HDD media player is well executed, well balanced and offers just about the total package. I really like the HornetTek Mirage and feel that it has impressed me enough to recommend it without reservation to you my readers. So if you’re on the market for such a HDD media player that can do 1080i, play multiple formats, record off an AV source, view photos, listen to audio, transfer from your USB drive or SD card to the internal hard drive, the HornetTek Mirage is just the unit that can help you.
Pros and Cons