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September 27, 2009

Cirago CMC1000 Multimedia Center hands-on review

cirago-cmc1000.jpgRecently I had the chance to review the Cirago CMC1000 Multimedia Center and to tell you the truth, it's an odd duck. It seems stuck in between the analog age and the digital age, featuring many of the capabilities of today's home theater PCs and network-attached storage devices, but without certain features that make it either.

It can record live TV if it is connected to your cable box, but given its other uses, it doesn't really qualify as a DVR/PVR in the TiVo sense and doesn't offer the ease of use a DVR from your cable provider could provide. The model I reviewed has 500 GB of storage space, and a 1 TB model is available, but it's not a NAS because it can't be accessed as an external drive from a home network. Surprisingly really because it can connect to your home theater via 10/100 LAN Ethernet or via a 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection. In essence, it's kind of a mutant that does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing great.

Out of the box, the CMC1000 Multimedia Center is sturdy, fairly attractive, and has attachable feet to stand on. A big upside is that the unit contains all of the connections it needs to function in the box as well, minus the optical cable digital video or coaxial cables it has slots for. Connections included are an HDMI cable, composite cables, analog audio/video cables, and a USB cable for your PC connection. Also included is a 12V AC/DC power adapter, a wireless USB dongle for your Wi-Fi connection, and a simple remote. The box also a a slot for SD and/or CF cards for photo storage, etc.

Setup is pretty simple. Before I set up its TV connection, I packed it with video, audio, and photo files from my PC via the USB connection. From that perspective, transfer was simple and quick. It was only then that I performed the home theater attachments, video via the HDMI connection to a Samsung 42-inch LCD HDTV model, and due to the complicated overall setup, used analog audio outputs to an older home theater and speaker set. This part of the test was easy, and once I turned the CMC1000 on was greeted by a light blue horizontal menu controllable from the included remote.

Anything stored on the multimedia center can be accessed from the HDD menu. Other menus include LAN for pulling media from your PC to the box over Ethernet or wireless USB, Card for inserted SD or similar card-stored media, Playlist for pre-defined playlists, and USB. All of the menus lead to a simple, organized sub-menu populated by Video, Audio, etc. This menus are again sup-populated by whatever your various stored files are. Mine played back without problems. The video and audio files were replayed to the quality of their respective sources, up to 720p/1080i video. The lack of 1080p output was confusing as was the lack of support for H.264 codec video variants. That was a pretty big downside for me, though some sort of software included on a CD that comes with the device can convert H.264 video from your LAN to MPEG on the fly so it can play. I didn't bother to try it because so much video, especially HD video which this device can't record anyway, is H.264-based. It should just plain be supported--built-in. Speaking of video recording, the CMC1000 really is a standard-definition video recorder working like a VCR. Set a time and it'll record analog video at that time.

I should also mention that later on I tried to transfer media over Wi-Fi. Don't bother, it's way to slow. Furthermore, the unit is pre-formatted to FAT32 and while it can be formatted to NTFS or both, FAT32 limits the size of files that can be copied to 4 GB and NTFS forbids recording. Therefore we have a problem. Any large files have to be copied/transferred via USB.

Overall, the Cirago CMC1000 Multimedia Center performs according to its specifications. If you're looking for a basic HTPC to transfer simple media files from your PC/Mac/Linux desktop to your home theater, it'll work just fine. Mainly over its LAN connection though rather than Wi-Fi.

You can grab yours for $158.

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Posted by Justin Davey at September 27, 2009 8:55 PM

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