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Emtec Movie Cube 

I've been looking forward to reviewing this product - from a brief reading of the literatiure sent to me I was hoping it would be an ideal product for my multimedia and data backup requirements. An inexpensive video recorder and network attach storage unit with the ability to stream my video across my home network.
Update : Just after this review was published Emtec came back to us with answers to some of our concerns with this product in the form of a new software release. Most of our issues were with software so if/when we can lay our hands on the new release we'll write an updated review!
Emtech Movie Cube R

To summarise the product the packaging declares the Movie Cube to be a "Multi-media player with recording function". Reading further we find that it has a 10/100 Ethernet port that enables "Network streaming playback function".

Hardware

You'll see later that this product fell a very long way short of my expectations, but lets start with a look at the hardware. First of all - it is beautifully designed and made - looks great. With power applied the front shows a set of blue illuminated touch sensitive icons providing one touch operation of some key functions.

Physically the brushed steel case measures 203x164x53mm (WxHxD) and so is small enough to be unobtrusive in the living room and smaller than most media PCs. The solid construction comes in at 1.5Kg. Finally you have a remote control to drive the system.

At heart what you have in the Movie Cube is an external USB hard-drive - with some added features that justify the multi-media label and price tag. Those extra features being :

  • Video in to record external content onto the hard-drive
  • Video out so you play both video and slide-show content back to an external TV
  • Component video out
  • Two external USB host connections by which you can attach two external storage devices - additional hard disks or flash-based drives such as MP3 players
  • COAX or Optical digital audio out
  • A 10/100 Ethernet port allowing wired connectivity to your home network
  • To the front there is a memory card reader supporting SD, MMC and Memory Stick cards

Housed within the unit you have a choice of hard-disk size from 160G bytes through to 500G bytes.

Software and Functionality

With the hardware spec outlined above this product could do a lot. Given the price it should do a lot. Right now though what it can actually do is rather limited. The underlying operating system is Linux based, a particular variant called 'BusyBox' intended for embedded applications. In theory this gives the product access to a wide range of services that could be offered to customers, but Emtec do not at this stage capitalise on that.

OK - what can it do?

  • Connected to your TV or set-top-box it can record and play-back video. Storage is onto the hard-drive (see later!)
  • Attach across your home network to play media files from other devices - most likely your home computers
  • Play either remote or local audio files through your TV or HiFi
  • Attach to USB storage devices to either play devices stored on those devices

Attaching the device to a network allows it to attach to other shared network drives and browse for media files. The user interface for this is pretty unfriendly - providing a file-system navigation presenting 'up a directory' as '..' (!). This basically exposes the raw operating file system rather than trying to be user friendly.

If you have a specific server, and you know what an IP address is, and you've set up your server with a static address then you can set up a short-cut to it - but only to the server - not to the specific media directory. This function isn't going to be a lot of use to many people and will totally mystify most.

The whole software experience suggests to be a hardware company wanting to add value (no margin in hard disks these days), don't understand software or software user interfaces and didn't want to invest properly in the product by building a software team.

User interface

Although a few functions are provided on the front panel of the device, the main control is via an on-TV display via the remote control. This interface was reasonably well laid out but very slow. On numerous occassions a big delay - with lack of user feedback meant I pressed a button several times only to suddenly wiz through several menus to completely the wrong place.

Video recording

The built in video recorder can be used in much the same way an old VHS system could be used. Either record now, or set a timer. It also offers a version of 'pause live TV'. Once you've recorded your programmes you can play them back to a TV, or to an external DVD or other recorder.

Because there is no TV tuner within the product you're reliant on your external systems. This means you don't benefit from any Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) to correctly select channel and time. In fact it's worse than the VHS days where the VHS recorder had it's own tuner. To record something from TV at a specific time you have to set up the Movie Cube and remember to leave your TV on and tuned to the right channel.

Rather strangely video is recorded onto a separate disk partition. This is completely hidden from the external interface and is completely separate from the 'user' disk. The size is fixed when the software is installed. In the review 320G byte box this partition was around 70G - with the remainder of the disk given over to user space.

Sharing/streaming your media

Where this box should excel is as a multi-media hub for your home network. Given it's network interface, it's location alongside your TV tuner and the potentially huge disk storage you should be able to store all your media right there (with backups of course) and then stream that data to any suitable device in your house - your computer for example. It could even stream live TV from your lounge to your kitchen so you can watch while you cook.

Does it do any of this? No!. Despite being built on a Linux core the software makes no use of the file server functionality offered by such a platform. There is no ability to 'share' the internal hard-disk partitions with other machines. This has two implications. Firstly - you can't back-up data across your network to the Movie Cube from your computer and secondly you can't get at data stored on the device. The only way to do this is via the cumbersome browser interface on the product itself, which can only access unprotected shares.

The only way to directly access your media from your computer is to physically disconnect from your TV and walk it to where you keep your PC and plug it into the USB. Even then there is no way to access the video that you've recorded on the device, which are stored away in a hidden partition. Contrast this with the excellent Humax PVR reviewed recently where USB is provided to copy video from the recorder to your PC.

Security

Very little attention appears to have been given to security of a product that could potentially be attached, via your home network, to the Internet. As an example I was alarmed to find that Telnet (an insecure protocol) was enabled to the box and that the root (super user) account had no password. Not really a problem if you've just using the video recorder, but assuming you're using it as a file backup then potentially all your data is wide open.

Software upgrade

As I said earlier the hardware is very well put together. The software doesn't come close to meeting the the potential of such a unit. But, software can be improved as long as it can be upgraded. This however has also been very clumsily handled. Firmware upgrade is possible, but only via USB and a PC. Worse still - the software upgrade reformats the entire hard-disk, loosing any data you had stored there. Given that you can't actually access the video partition on the device this means you will definitely loose any video you had stored there.

If you compare this with how Digital TV Recorders (DTR) we've recently reviewed transparently upgrade while you sleep, this area needs a lot of work.

Summary

The price of the Movie Cube depends on the size of the hard-disk. As an example the 320G byte version I had for review costs around £173. That's a lot of money. Enough to buy a 160G byte Freeagent USB disk and a Top Up DTR+.

A good idea, pleasing physical design, good quality hardware - very poor software. A couple of years back this might have been an attractive early adopter product and definitely has a lot of geek potential given the Linux foundation.

For those techie people out there - what you're buying is an interesting low-cost hardware platform capable of supporting Linux (on a RISC processor) with built in video capture. I can almost see an open source project based around this platform to realise it's potential!

I can't imagine to whom this product would appeal - it's neither a good multi-media station nor a good external storage system - but is more expensive than both.

For those of you interested (maybe you'd like to start an open source project?), the Emtec Movie Cube - R is available from Amazon as follows :

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Rating:

Comment by benjiboy, June 2, 2009 19:28

I have to agree with the ensign. Do not go near this product.I just bought the Q120 model, advertised as NAS/USB/WLAN storage. It will not connect via USB. It will not connect as NAS, even after applying the patch they give on their website. If you navigate to the IP address of the device you get a stupid 'sample html + cgi' add two numbers page. The device itself is wholly invisble to other devices, leaving you the only option of trying to copy via the TV interface which is so cumbersome, unsophisticated and slow that it leaves you tearing your hair out. I contacted their support site, (run by an entirely separate company). They demand you send the device at your own cost to Germany including the original sales receipt, saying that any transit damage will be at your cost. The clear impression is they hope to put you off and that you'll just go away with their shoddy goods rather than risk losing everything.
In summary, this is a very poor attempt at a network media storage/player and I think the manufacturers know that but are nonetheless pushing it out there to unsuspecting punters. DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON IT.
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Comment by ensign_bodybag, Dec 14, 2008 16:21

Hi all,
I am new to the site, so let me introduce myself first - I am an I.T. professional with 25 years of computer experience, a love of guitars and sequencers and a passion for all kinds of electronic gadgetry.
I spent a lot of time making my mind up about purchasing a digital media device, and finally purchased the Emtec Movie cube as it appeared to have everything I wanted at the time, at a very reasonable price. At that time there wasn't anything with a HDMI connector, but I settled for the
This was about six months ago..

The fan started to whine after about 8 weeks, and I ended up stripping the box down and spraying some WD40 into the sleeve bearing. That worked OK for a while but I have to repeat the operation about once a month as the fan noise starts to get intrusive.

The front touch control panel still lights up and looks pretty, but that's all it does - none of the buttons work.

As stated above, the browser is appallingly slow, especially when trying to scroll through stored movies. I am awaiting a review of the new firmware before trying to flash the damn thing, as I don't have a lot of confidence in Emtec's software - and who the hell decided on Yellow highlights on White text FFS !!

I used to be able to transfer files directly to the device from Windows XP, but if anybody knows how to get Vista SP1 to talk to it I would appreciate the heads up - despite my many years of experience in I.T. support I can't get a reliable connection. I can see 'Part 2' and even see the folders on this part (But not on 'Part 1')
When I try to open the folders in makes Windows explore lock up, and I have to kill the 'explorer' process and re-start it to get control - never happened on XP, and I have tried removing IP v6 as suggested on other forums - doesn't work. Disabling the firewalls on both Vista and on my Thompson wireless router didn't help either, so it's not a firewall issue.

All in all a disappointing purchase which appeared to show such great promise in the specification, but failed to deliver in the appalling interface. I hope that subsequent upgrades may fix these shortcomings, but judging by the comments above, the current release doesn't improve things much.

A friend of mine brought round a 500G 'Woxter' box last week which was cheaper, lighter, smaller, ran off the USB power when connected to the PC, and appeared to support a much higher download speed.
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Comment by Dean, Sep 24, 2008 13:47

Hi, Please Can someone tell me how to update the firmware.. Thanks
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Comment by jy, Aug 5, 2008 14:52

I have bought this product just 2 months ago, have installed the latest firmware also v2.9.. put on some movies, music & photos and used it.. overall as a "non-techie" user i find it very disappointing, first, i was really eyeing on the Tvix models for multimedia HDD player but because this Movie cube R was relatively cheaper with so much "expected" features like the slave usb port, the lan port and the composite video out and also the card reader which i didnt found in Tvix models.. i was.. well, i can say distracted.. hoping to get a lot more function and convenience with lesser price.. but as i have said after trying it out i am very disappointed.. more particularly to the non-user friendly interface, the software as other would define it, for all we know this is the era where user-friendly is a very important key to having success in consumer electric device.. just look at Apple products.. the problem started with the operating interface, its just browsing to root directories with no clear indication how to go around the menus and functions. its just so confusing navigating to it.. Can't they get inspiration from apples Tivo.. as i have read from some critics which i would agree! that the EMTEC cube R is just an upgraded HDD enclosure that can play movies, music, photos, & record video.. its not really a home entertainment gadget.. definitely disappointing.. not a good buy i would say.
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Comment by brix, June 13, 2008 11:50

Ihavew a movie cube r700, in browser for view a image in jpeg how can reduce the time between a photo and another photo? when you see aphoto a slishow start automatically; is possible go to next photo more quickly?
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Comment by Ian Powell, May 4, 2008 8:22

I can't wait for someone to hack the blasted software and put a linux style interface to make it a functioning pc....

I used it every day,, its ok.. But it could be so much more
Rating:

Comment by petew, Mar 10, 2008 12:16

I reviewed this product from the perspective of your typical end-user, not an uber techno-geek. I could have reviewed it as a software engineer with 30 years experience, but generally that is not the audience GadgetSpeak is trying to reach. Samba? Telnet? Fat32? FTP access? Firstly most of these mean nothing to your average user - and why should they? Secondly - while the box can access external windows shares, the software release on the review product does not include a samba server. The provided software release was based on a very old and limited version of BusyBox. Most people are not going to be in a position to upgrade (unless of course the target audience for the product is the aforementioned techno-geek).

The review was originally written in November using the shipped software and the standard manual and the web-site as reference. In light of our findings with the device I then asked Emtec to clarify what we'd found, leaving the review unpublished for 2 months while we awaited a reply. I finally received a response a day after publishing the article with the basic answer that the latest software fixes a lot of the problems.

As I said above - I will be reviewing the product with the new software, and I will include details on my experience with the upgrade.

With specific reference to the upgrade : from the manual "Please backup the data in your hard disc in advance. Because the following steps will format the hard disc, which will ERASE ALL DATA currently stored on the hard disc" (yes - I RTFM). My understanding of format hard disc and ERASE ALL DATA is to assume it will format the hard disc and erase all data! Maybe your interpretation is different? The manual also makes no mention of USB stick upgrade.

Thank you for the link you provide. It does include some useful information - but for the most part *not* for a beginner, and certainly not for those that are not technically adept and just want a media hub for their home. For example there is information on how to get Samba working but nothing to tell you what samba is or why you might want it.

I'm not sure which part of the manual you think I should be reading (RTFM)? I have it here in front of me. Or do you believe Read The ******* Manual (RTFM) is now synonymous with 'search the Internet'? Not that the link you post above appears in any of the Google searches I tried.

Rating:

Comment by DeDooieVent, Mar 5, 2008 11:43

Very uncomplete review, done by someone who does not know how to operate this machine!!! It is possible to copy the recorded programs to fat32 (edit title last option, copy to fat32) also samba acces and FTP acces and Telnet acces is very easy. You can connect to the record partition from the network easy

The story about firmware upgrading is also utter bollocks, you can also update through an usb stick! It is also not true it formats the whole disk, it only formats the partition on which you record.

The response of the remote controll is very good, but the problem is that it is influenced by some housing lights (energy saving lamps)!!!

If you really want to know things about this player please visit http://moviecube.xooit.fr/index.php for an english/french extensive tweaking guide and "how to" for beginners

all in all this is the worst review i have seen on the net so far, it should be rewritten, because the verdict is unfair and based on the reviewers own disability i guess (RTFM, anyone???)

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