What should I look for in a network media player?

Network Media Players
Getting those PC media files to your TV has never been easier

Network Media Players may have been around for a few years, but they offer a wide variety of functions and features that can make the purchasing process confusing.

Still, there are certain features that should be at the top of everyone's shopping list to ensure the product doesn't disappoint.

While it's worth having a good understanding of networking in general, here are the essential things you need to include when looking for a Network Media Player for your home theatre setup.

Gigabit Ethernet and 801.11n Wi-Fi

Yes, it's uncommon to see a media library comprised solely of 1080p video, but times (and bandwidth quotas) change.

If you're planning on taking HD seriously, make sure your NMP offers Gigabit Ethernet or more importantly, 801.11n Wi-Fi if you plan on using wireless. Slower Wi-Fi can result in stuttering when streaming higher bit rate files.

DVD/Blu-ray ISO menu support

It's not the most space-efficient way to go about it, but if you want to back up your DVDs or Blu-ray discs as ISO images, ensure your NMP can render disc menus.

Without this, supplementary features won't be available and watching multiple episodes of TV shows becomes a hassle as your NMP plays them as one long video.

Full-sized remote

A lot of NMPs come with half-sized remotes with small, rubbery buttons.

Given the plethora of features loaded into most units, this can make setup frustrating. Look for full-size remotes or at least good-sized playback and navigation buttons.

Internal hard drive

If your home is relatively gadget-light and you don't use a NAS, it's worth noting that some NMPs come with built-in hard drives or the space to install one.

It's not essential for more connected households, but an internal drive does offer some benefits, like bypassing network setup and making BitTorrent downloading (available on some NMPs) that much easier.

Ease of use

Unintuitive menus used to be the norm, but some vendors have recently made great strides in usability, to the point that we think a well thought-through NMP should be no harder to use than a DVD player.

Generally, the bigger-name vendors all do pretty good jobs of making their systems easy to navigate, but some emerging players - especially those utilising unoptimised Android installations - can be a trial for the less tech-savvy.

Depending on your household, this might be a deal-breaker or a non-issue.