The MB100 isn't really quite like anything we've seen before. being essentially a bridge between your PC and TV, allowing you to play AV files from PCs, external USB HDDs or networked storage boxes into your TV or projector. And that's really just the start of its talents...
Aesthetically the PixelMagic looks more PC than AV, which might intimidate technophobes. Still, its vertical stance at least makes it easy to tuck discreetly on a bookshelf.
It's the MB100's connections that really shed light on what the box is all about. An Ethernet port, for instance, lets you add the Mediabox to your PC network - including any network storage devices you may have. So you could, say, rip a bunch of DVDs or store HD fi les onto a mass storage device or your PC and use the MB100 as a 'portal' to get them onto your telly.
USB jacks, meanwhile, allow an alternative way of connecting to a PC or USB HDD device. The MB100's own menus will then allow you to access suitable fi le formats on your storage devices, with those 'suitable fi le formats' including: MPEG 1/2/4, WMV9, DivX, XviD, DVD, .ISO, JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG, WMA, AAC, PCM WAB and .VOB.
The MediaBox also sports one IDE HDD slot for adding up to 500GB of built-in internal memory (any third-party internal HDD will fit), so you can just transfer fi les from your PC to the MB100 for permanent storage and easy, direct access.
Video outputs, meanwhile, include S-video, composite video, VGA and HDMI - but it's the HDMI that really makes the MB100 exciting. because it doesn't just 'mindlessly' pass fi les through to your screen. Instead it can output pictures upscaled to either the native resolution of your screen, or one of many video formats, up to and including, remarkably, 1080p.
The scaling system is unexpectedly high-level: a 10-bit system from Sigma Designs incorporating motion adaptive deinterlacing. This makes the MB100's £300 price point start to look crazily cheap. Even fairly bog-standard video scalers tend to cost at least £800 these days.
The MB100's scaling system is really quite excellent. Standard defi nitionsources are upscaled to HD with remarkably sharp, professional and, above all, noiseless results, and even HD fi les seem richer for a run through on the MB100.
It's not just pictures that benefit either. The sound output via the MB100's built-in stereo audio and digital audio outputs also seems enhanced by the journey through the unit's 'engine'.
Our only complaints about the MB100, in fact, all concern operation, not quality. For starters, the MB100 can't auto detect if a source is 50Hz or 60Hz unless you remember to put '50Hz' or '60Hz' in a video fi le's folder title. Some of the scaling options are also rather confusingly presented in the onscreen menus, potentially alienating AV novices. Finally, potential issues with streaming really high quality HD fi les from linked sources really make buying an HDD drive more or less a necessity rather than an option.
But even if you opt for a 250GB built-in HDD you're maybe only going to add about £90-£100 to the MB100's price. Given the features it offers and its video scaling tools, it's still a prime contender for bargain of the year. John Archer