Archive: Media Centres 2007-2009

REVIEW / RadioGears iTab 38HD

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Régis Jehl Published on April 28, 2010
Updated on April 28, 2010
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SPECIFICATIONS

  • Connections (HDMI/composite/optical/coaxial) 1 / 1 / 1 / 1
  • Hard drive bay (2.5''/3.5'') no / yes
  • WiFi no
  • Ethernet 100 MB/s }
  • DVB-T tuner no
  • Chip Sigma Designs SMP8634
The RadioGears iTab 38HD isn't just a media device; it's a whole new concept. Basically though, it's a media centre that can rip DVDs and audio CDs and save them to a hard drive. Is it a gimmick or the perfect solution for creating a centralised video library?

Hardware: poor interface

The iTab 38HD media centre has a trapezium-shaped design and it's well made. We were a bit disappointed by the VFD though, as it's quite small and can't be used to navigate through the internal menus if you've got the TV switched off. The remote control is fairly nice and it's comfortable to use; it's just a shame it's not backlit.


The menus are similar to those we used to see back in 2008, offering no advanced functionality. There's no way of creating a video jukebox or displaying album covers, and you can't view your photos as thumbnails either. As well as this lack of functionality, the overall graphic style and quality of the interface are pretty dodgy too.

Power consumption is just about average. We measured 1.2 W on standby and 21.7 W playing an HD film.


Compatibility: great for HD video, not so good for audio

The decoder chip is the Sigma Designs SMP8634, which is very similar to that used in the Western Digital WD TV HD. Video compatibility is therefore excellent and we didn't find anything bad to say about it.

HD films encoded in MPEG-4 AVC (H.264 and x264) play just fine, even those with a bitrate of 80 Mbps. For more information on compatible formats, why not take a look at our media centre face-off?


Compare the RadioGears iTab 38HD to other media centres in our product face-off

Audio is, however, a different story. There are plenty of compatible formats (MP3, M4A, OGG, FLAC etc.) but the device can't display album covers. In fact, only the information contained in MP3 files (tags) can be read by the device. The iTab 38HD can decode DTS and Dolby Digital, and stereo downmixing means the signal can be converted and sent to your TV's speakers (except DTS HD Master Audio).

Connections: networking but no Wi-Fi

There are plenty of A/V outputs, with HDMI, component, composite, optical and coaxial. USB Host ports are on hand for access to content stored on USB flash drives or external hard drives, with one such port located on the front panel. The only drawback is a particularly slow USB transfer speed of 4.7 MBps, compared with 15 MBps in some of the best models.

Networking is covered by a 100 Mbps Ethernet connection that's also quite slow, with a maximum transfer speed of 3.4 MBps when copying a file from your computer onto the device's hard drive. As a result, playing an HD video over the network can be painful, and you're better off transferring files to the media centre's hard drive.
The DVD player with rip function
This device stands out from the crowd with its internal DVD drive. This can be used to play high-street DVD discs and audio CDs. However, we did notice a few problems with Dolby Digital audio when played though our TV speakers. The device has no trouble bitstreaming (sending the signal to an external decoder).

The most interesting feature, though, is the drive's ability to rip DVD and CD discs. In other words, it can automatically copy audio and video files onto the media centre's hard drive. Ripped files can even be saved to an external USB storage device.

This is incredibly practical for anyone looking to put together their own video library with no technical knowledge. There's no loss in video quality either as the files aren't compressed (count 9 GB of memory for a DVD). You can choose to save audio CDs as WAV, MP3 or APE (lossless compression). You'll have to be patient though, as it takes two to three hours to rip a DVD.

Our only real regret is that the manufacturer didn't take things one step further and include some video entries for transferring content from camcorder tapes, for example.

PROS

  • Plays and rips DVDs
  • Video compatibility
  • DTS and Dolby Digital decoding

CONS

  • Interface lacks advanced options
  • Can't create a video jukebox
  • No video entries
  • Low USB transfer speeds
  • Low networking speeds

CONCLUSION 3/5

This media centre is an interesting concept that could have been made even better with a few video entries. The interface is way too basic, which is largely responsible for its three-star score.
3 RadioGears iTab 38HD DigitalVersus 2010-04-28 00:00:00
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