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Appeared on: Friday, November 11, 2005
Vantec AVOX Jukebox


1. Introduction

Vantec was founded in 1994, and is one of the leading manufacturers of cooling solutions world-wide. Although fans and coolers are what have made Vantec known to the public, there are other, wide ranging products that Vantec manufactures from time to time.

Their latest innovative product is a multi-function device called the AVOX Jukebox. It is a mobile storage device and a multimedia player, all packed in a small sized box. It can connect to your PC to store your files and transfer them easily to another computer, just as you would do with any pocket-size disk. You can also connect your Vantec AVOX to your TV set and watch you favorite movies (DVD, DivX, XviD, etc), view your latest photos you took with your camera, or even listen to your favorite music.

- Features

The only thing that you need to do is install a 2.5"hard disk, like that found on almost all notebooks. Note, the required disk is not part of the retail package.

The device uses the popular USB2.0 interface to connect to a PC and operate as a simple external storage device (up to 480Mbps transfer speed). The device can also operate with the slower, USB1.1 port.

Among its list of features, there is one that stands out. This is the support for DivX and XviD encoded files. This means that you can watch on your TV set, all those movies you downloaded from the internet, since DivX and XviD compression methods are very popular around the web.

A small list of features can be seen below:

- Specifications

Power DC 5V/2A
Weight 160g (without HDD)
Dimension 80 x 148 x 24 mm
Working Temperature 0 C~50 C
Working Humidity 10%~75%
Available OS Windows 98/SE/ME/2000/XP, MAC 9.0 higher,
Linux 2.4 higher
PC Interface 480Mbps USB 2.0 High-Speed (USB 1.1 compatible)
HDD Type 2.5" IDE HDD
HDD File System FAT32, NTFS
TV Type PAL, NTSC
Supported formats

Movie: MPEG 1, 2, 4
(MPG, MPEG,AVI, M2V, DAT, VOB, IFO etc), DivX, XviD (except GMC, Qpel option applied)
Music: MP3, OGG Vorbis, WMA
Photo: JPG(JPEG)

Video Output COMPOSITE
COMPONENT Y, Pb, Pr
(480p, 720p, 1080i Progressive Scan)
Audio Output STEREO L-R
DIGITAL COAXIAL (DTS Pass-Through Only)
External IR Optional

- Retail Package

We received the retail box of the Vantec AVOX Jukebox and we were happy to see a very well organized package that includes everything you need to connect the AVOX device to any PC or TV set.

As you can see from the photo above, inside the box you will find the AVOX device (the 2.5" hard disk is not included in the package), a remote control (batteries ARE included), an AC cable (Composite + Stereo L-R), Component video cable, Coaxial audio cable and the power adapter. Of course, you will also find a user's manual and a driver's disc needed for Windows 98/Me users.

The device itself looks very simple. On the front you will see the power led, the activity led and the IR led.

On the back panel you will find the USB2.0 connection, the 5V power connection and the video/audio connectors. From left to right you can see the IR/5.1 connector (can be used to install an IR adapter), the SD/HD connector and the AV connector. You should use the appropriate cable provided for each of these connections.

This is the label on the device, located at the bottom of the black AVOX box.

You can only have complete control of the AVOX Jukebox with the remote control provided in the retail package. This remote control is needed to perform most operations with the AVOX when operating as a multimedia player. So, you should not lose it or damage it!

- Testing software/procedure

We should explain in the next few lines, the way that we decided to test this device. First of all, you can't easily find other devices on the market that offer what the Vantec AVOX Jukebox has to offer, so we had to put our minds together to figure out a way to test this device. In any case, one thing is certain: there are two key points that will be examined in this review. One is the compatibility of the AVOX with a wide range of audio, video and picture files, encoded with different codecs and methods. The second key point is to investigate the image/video quality the AVOX offers when operating as a multimedia device.

In order to test the compatibility of this device, we created several audio and video files with different codecs. We then tested the playability of these files with the AVOX. The results are presented later on in this review and they are quite interesting.

In order to investigate video and picture quality, we were interested in capturing still images, moving pictures and test screens. These test screens are used mostly to investigate the color clarity. Of course, we used not only light images and scenes, but also darker ones. All these themes were taken from the "Plasma TV Demo DVD" provided by Pioneer, without any kind of conversion or compression.

It makes no sense to examine the speed performance of the AVOX device, since transfer rates are dependent on the hard disk's transfer rate. This means that if we choose to use a pretty fast drive, the AVOX will behave accordingly. For this review, we used a Fujitsu MHN2200AT (20GB) 2.5" hard disk. So let's not waste any more time and get the tests running...


2. A Closer Look

We usually don't say this, but you will NOT void the warranty by opening this device up. After all, opening the AVOX case is needed to install the 2.5" drive.

The first thing that you will see when you remove the top cover, is the circuit board protected by the white covering as shown in the picture, to prevent the hard drive from touching the board.

Removing this circuit board will reveal several chipsets that are used to decode video, audio and picture files. To be more precise, it consists of the following:

Sigma Designs EM8511 Decoder

This is the powerfull REALmagic decoder by Sigma Designs. For all those that don't remember Sigma Designs, we should remind you that this is one of the first companies that started manufacturing chipsets to decode MPEG2 files and reduce CPU load for such processes. The Sigma Designs' chipsets are known to produce the best image and video quality when it comes to video decoding. Especially the EM8510 family, which provides highly-integrated solutions for products requiring MPEG-4.2, MPEG-2 and DVD decoding. Unique features offered by the EM8510 family include analog YPbPr/RGB video outputs with optional scaling up to HDTV resolution and support for external MPEG encoder and networking chips. A wide variety of media types are supported, accessible through a powerful navigation engine.

Hynix HY57V643220DT-6 8MB memory chip

Prolific USB 2.0-IDE bridge controller

Philips 74LVC08AD high-performance, low-power, low-voltage, Si-gate CMOS chipset

Samsung K8D3216UTC EPROM device


3. Installation

It is very easy to install a 2.5" hard disk of your choice. There are detailed images and instructions in the user's manual. However, we demonstrate here the whole procedure.

First of all, you have to remove the back panel and the front plate.

Then, you can plug the hard disk onto the circuit board. Remember to set the jumpers to MASTER. In our case, no jumper was needed.

Finally, you can secure the hard drive on the circuit board by using the provided screws to prevent the hard disk from moving inside the AVOX box. .

As you can see, installation steps are pretty straight forward. Even if you have never seen a circuit board or if you consider yourself a novice user, you will not have any problem connecting your hard disk to the AVOX Jukebox. Just follow the provided instructions in the user's manual and use these photos as reference.


4. The Menus

We connected the Vantec AVOX Jukebox t our TV set in order to see the menu system the AVOX offers. We came up with the following error message.

The AVOX was then connected to our test PC and we formatted the disk using the NTFS filesystem. Unfortunately, the Vantec AVOX could not recognize the NTFS filesystem when connected to the TV set. So, we reformatted the drive using the FAT32 filesystem and the AVOX worked as promised. We hope that this small bug will be fixed in a future firmware release.

This is the welcome screen from the AVOX menu.

In the configuration menu, you will find all you need to set up your video configurations...

... and of course, you can choose between NTSC and PAL TV systems.

The audio configuration is very simple, since you can only choose between digital sound encoding and analog reproduction.

Finally, you will find the configuration for your TV type, default language options, jpeg file preview function and firmware information. We should point out that the AVOX is firmware upgradable, and at the time of this review, the latest firmware version available was 1.3.4.

We then loaded the hard disk with several files to see the way the AVOX played these files on our TV set.

The AVOX engineers did a very good job with the menu dialogs. It is the simplest menu system that we have ever seen. The menu is divided in 4 sections (video/audio/photo/play list). Every section informs you of the files that can be opened by the AVOX. The following screen is the "video" section.

As you can see, the AVOX Jukebox supports MPEG-1 DAT files...

.... avi (divx encoded) files...

... and even DVD files. When a full DVD title is copied to the AVOX, you should select the video_ts.ifo file in order to navigate through the DVD menu. Just as you would do with a stand-alone DVD player.

Again, when selecting the "audio" section, the AVOX informs us about the files that can be opened by the device.

You will see your music files organized in folders, like you would see them on your PC. There is a graphic equalizer function, and you can set the AVOX Jukebox to play all the music files, one by one.

Unfortunately, only JPEG picture files are supported, but since most digital cameras use the JPEG format anyway, we don't think this will be a problem for most users.

When navigating through your photos, you can see a small preview picture on the left side of the screen. You can also view all the files in order.

Last but not least, using the "Playlist" tab will let you create playlists that you can use to playback files with your AVOX. Of course, you can see the playlist files saved on your hard disk when you connect the Vantec AVOX to your PC.

In the following pages, you will find detailed lists of files that can be opened with the AVOX Jukebox.


5. Playback Tests

In order to test the Vantec AVOX Jukebox, we used several encoded files with the latest version of XVid, DivX, x264 Mpeg4 codecs, along with several Mpeg1 and Mpeg2 clips. You can view further details about all encoded files in this PDF.

In short, the Vantec AVOX Jukebox supports the following audio/video/picture extension filenames:

- Audio Tests

We used several audio formats from almost all current compressed/uncompressed music files:

Format Details Result
MP4
(.MP4 & .AAC)
CBR (32~192Kbit) No

VBR (30~300Kbit)

No
HE/LC VBR 2.0 No
HE/LC VBR 5.1 No
AC3
(.AC3)
5.1 Yes
DTS
(.DTS)
5.1 Yes
MP2
(.MP2)
2.0 Yes
MP3 (Layer 3)
(.MP3)
ABR (32~320Kbit) Yes
CBR (32~320Kbit) Yes
VBR (32~320Kbit) Yes
MP3 (Layer2)
(.MP3)
CBR (8~160Kbit) Yes
MP3 (Layer 2.5)
(.MP3)
CBR (8~160Kbit) Yes
MP3 Pro
(.MP3)
CBR (18~ 96Kbit) Yes
VBR (Lowest-Highest) Yes
OGG
(.OGG)
CBR (45~500Kbit) Yes
VBR (25~100 Quality) Yes
VBR 5.1 Yes
WAV
(.WAV)
PCM 44.1 /48Khz 2.0 Yes
PCM 48Khz 5.1 Yes
WMA
(.WMA)
CBR (5~320Kbits) Yes
VBR (48~192Kbits) Yes
WMA Pro 5.1 No

- Uncompressed Video Formats (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
AVI
(.AVI)
2.1GB sized 720x576 26Mbit Yes

- DivX Video Files (.avi codec)

DivX
(.AVI)
Home Theater Profile 720x400 1~4Mbit Yes
High Definition Profile 720x400 4~8Mbit Yes
High Definition 1280x720 4Mbit Yes
GMC 720x400 1Mbit Jerky playback
GMC Multiconsecutive
GMC & QP Jerky playback
GMC & QP Multiconsecutive
QP Jerky playback
QP Multiconsecutive
VBR MP3 & AC3 Sound Streams 720x400 1Mbit Yes

- Special Video Files (.AVI)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
DivX
(.AVI)
ASP Adapt Nero 720x288 965Kbit Yes
ASP Custom XVid 720x288 406Kbit Yes
ASP GMC 1Warp Point DivX 720x288 356Kbit No
ASP GMC 3Warp Point XVid 720x288 396Kbit No
ASP Mpeg XVid 720x288 396Kbit Yes
ASP QPel DivX 720x288 493Kbit No
SP 3ivX 720x288 454Kbit Yes

- Packaged Video Files (Video, Audio and Subtitles Streams)

DivX
(.Divx)
3 VBR MP3 Audio Streams & 5 Subtitles ? ? Yes
Slideshow ? ? Yes
Matroska
(.MKV)
DivX5 Video Stream, VBR MP3 AudioStream, 2 Subtitle streams 704x288 1Mbit Yes

- Xvid Video File (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
Xvid
(.AVI)
No special modes 704x288 1Mbit Yes
BVop Yes
BVop & Packed BitStream Yes
BVop & Packed BitStream & QP Jerky Playback
BVop & Packed BitStream & QP & GMC No
BVop & QP & GMC No

- H264 Video Files (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
x264
(.AVI)
VBR Mp3 Audio Stream 704x288 700Kbit Only Sound
1Mbit
1.5Mbit
2Mbit
4Mbit
6Mbit
8Mbit

- NeroDigital Video Files (.mp4)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
NeroDigital
(.MP4)
Mobile 176x144 400Kbit No
Portable 352x288 2Mbit
Standard 720x576 4Mbit
Cinema 1280x720 9.8Mbit
HDTV 1920x1072 9.8Mbit

- Mpeg Video Formats (.mpeg)

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
Mpeg1 (.MPG) VCD Compliant 352x240 1152Kbit Yes
352x288 1152Kbit
XVCD 352x288 1500Kbit
XVCD 352x288 2000Kbit
Out of specs 640x480 1200Kbit
Mpeg2
(.MPG)
- 720x480 2713Kbit Yes
AC3 Sound 720x576 9800Kbit
SVCD 480x576 2519Kbit
Mpeg2
(.M2V)
Compliant Test Stream 352x288 1.5Mbit Yes
704x576 4Mbit
6Mbit
8Mbit
12Mbit
18Mbit Jerky Playback
40Mbit
Mpeg2-TS
(.TS)
5.1 Surround sound 720x576 12Mbit No

- Windows Media Video Video Files (.wmv)

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
WMV (.WMV) Windows Media Player 10 Digital Life Clip 320x180 300Kbit Not recognized
Windows Media Player 10 Striker Clip 320x180 300Kbit Not recognized
WMV HD DRM
(.WMV)
Alexander Trailer 1280x720 6Mbit Not recognized
1920x1080 9Mbit Not recognized
WMV HD
(.WMV)
The Magic Of Flight Clip 1280x720 6Mbit Not recognized
1920x1080 9Mbit Not recognized
WMA Pro 5.1
(.WMV)
Peter Gabriel Sledgehammer Videoclip 240x192 466Kbit Not recognized

- Special Tests

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
Mpeg 1
(.MPG)
Filename contains Unicode special characters 352x240 1Mbit Correct filename doesn't recognized but file can be played without any problem

- Subtitles Test Files

Format Information Playback
Text (.SRT) English Subtitles Yes
Greek Subtitles Doesn't display Unicode special formats
DVD (.IDX .SUB) English Language No
Greek Language No
Netherlands Language No
Text (.PSB)
MicroDVD Format English Language No
Text (.PSB) PowerDivx Format English Language No
Text (.SSA) Substation Alpha English Language Yes
Text (.SUB) Subviewer English Language Yes

- Picture Formats

Format Resolution Playback
Jpeg
(.JPG)
2272x1704 Yes
2048x1532
1600x1200
Png
(.PNG)
2048x1532 No
Gif
(.GIF)
2048x1532 No
Bmp
(.BMP)
2048x1532 No

As you can see from all the tables above, the AVOX does exactly what it promises and nothing less. Remember not to use Q-Pel and GMC when encoding DivX and XviD video files. Unfortunately, the AVOX cannot playback special unicode characters in subtitles (like Greek characters). This is a firmware issue that can be solved with a future firmware release.


6. Video Quality Tests - Test Screens Page 1

Test screens are used to test the clarity and brightness of the created files. Black and white lines are introduced, coloured images with all kind of colours, as well as dark and light areas on the screen. Clicking on the images will open a higher resolution image.

click to enlarge!

click to enlarge!

click to enlarge!

click to enlarge!

Our first thoughts were what can a small box like this offer, when compared with high-end DVD players? As you can see above, the AVOX produced excellent, bright images of these test screens, and furthermore, excellent color clarity with no dull corners and no distortion. Black, white and grey areas are identified clearly as different areas. Excellent performance from Vantec's AVOX Jukebox!


7. Video Quality Tests - Test Screens Page 2

Test patterns are used to test the clarity and brightness of the created files. A gradual range of Black to White bands are used, as well as dark and light areas on the screen.

click to enlarge!

click to enlarge!

In this test screen, you see different hues of black to white bands. Color level 1 should always be seen as pure black, while level 16 should always look like pure white colour. As you can see, this is an excellent black and white color reproduction.


8. Video Quality Tests - Still images

Still images are used to investigate the behaviour of the converter with a wider range of colours. Clarity, distortion and brightness is also investigated. We tried to use dark images as well as light. Again, clicking on the images will reveal a higher resolution image. The preview images were zoomed by 400%.

click to enlarge!

In this normal bright image, we were happy to see that all colors were shown as brightly as they should be.

click to enlarge!

This is a much brighter image, and again, color reproduction and brightness are very good. You will notice that there is absolutely no color distortion between the shadows and the image subject. Once again, excellent performance!

click to enlarge!

The distortion factor remained at very low levels. Very good color reproduction with excellent image quality.

click to enlarge!

There were absolutely no brightness problems with the AVOX Jukebox. Once again, very good image quality.


9. Video Quality Tests - Moving pictures

The Vantec AVOX Jukebox performance is most interesting when moving picture and live scenes are investigated. After all, most end users will use the device to watch moving pictures and less for still images. Clarity, distortion and brightness are also investigated. We tried to use dark as well as light images. Clicking on the photos will reveal full sized high resolution images for better comparison. The preview images were zoomed by 400%. We strongly recommend you see the full-sized pictures to investigate video quality.

click to enlarge!

The colour distortion factor was as low as ever. Again, excellent colour reproduction with the right brightness level.

click to enlarge!

Light effect and colour reproduction seems to be as vivid as they should.

click to enlarge!

You should not let the zoomed image fool you. There is no distortion in this moving scene.

click to enlarge!

Vivid colours, bright image, excellent image quality. Do we need to say more?


10. Conclusion

Vantec surprised us with the new AVOX Jukebox. It is an external USB2.0 hard disk, a photo slide-show viewer, a DVD player, a DivX/XviD player and a music player. All these packed into a small pocket-sized box with a remote control. Just load all your files onto its internal hard disk, and with the remote control in the palm of your hand, sit back and relax!

The retail package was complete, and you will find everything you will need to connect the AVOX Jukebox to your PC or any TV set. The only component missing is the hard drive but that is very reasonable since that choice should be left to the user anyway.

The AVOX Jukebox can play a wide range of Video and Audio formats. The only thing that you should be cageful of is the speed of the hard drive, since when playing back DVD titles, you might experience jerky playback if the hard drive is not fast enough. Image quality and colour reproduction was excellent, and this is something that we did not expect. The AVOX Jukebox has nothing to be jealous of, when compared to all those stand-alone DVD players currently available.

The Vantec AVOX Jukebox is priced at approximately US$100, making it a very attractive buy.



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