Media players come in all shapes and sizes and finding the one that is right for you really depends on how you plan to use it. We took a look at the Nixeus Fusion HD media player to get a good feel of what this unit is capable of doing in our media room. After all, it is quite exciting to get a media player that is capable of supporting so many formats and that can play back content in full HD up to 1080p60Hz. The HDMI® 1.3 compliant output with True 36 Bit Deep Color support is just the beginning. The list of features is long with this unit, handling virtually everything we threw at it including ISO (SD & HD) files. There is even enough space in the chassis to install a 2TB 3.5" SATA hard drive. Navigation is made easy with the logical Graphic User Interface (GUI). The unit has an internal BitTorrent Client for Downloading and supports direct access to online entertainment that includes YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, RSS, Internet Radio, Live 365, SHOUTcast, and more. There is even a built-in web browser that let users access the web directly and supports an external USB keyboard and mouse (both wired or wireless). The unit measures 3-1/8" x 5-3/8" x 7-1/4" (LxWxH).
The Fusion HD package includes the media player, USB Wi-Fi dongle, IR remote (with two AAA batteries), universal 12V/2.5A power supply, USB cable, HDD SATA data and power cable (internal cabling), 3.5mm AV plug to RCA cable, LAN cable, 4 screws for mounting the HDD, Quick Start Guide, and the 2-year Manufacturer's warranty.
The Fusion HD is based on the Sigma Designs SMP8655 Linux-based processor. Compatible Media Formats for video include AVI, WMV, MPG, ISO, VOB, IFO, MP4, ASF, TP, TS, M2TS, MOV(H.264), MKV, M-JPEG, MPEG 1/2/4 SD/HD, AVI, H.264 HD, WMV9, and VC1 (Resolution up to 1920x1080p). Music and audio formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, Dolby Digital, DTS, FLAC, OGG, MPEG 1 Layer 2, PCM, WMA PRO, (Pass-through) Dolby True HD, and DTS HD. Photo formats include JPEG, PNG, GIF, Bitmap, and TIFF. The Fusion HD is fully Certified and Licensed By HDMI, UPnP 1.0 Certified, DLNA 1.5 Compliant, Dolby Digital, DTS, UPnP, and Full HD 1080P.
The indicators on the front left side of the unit provide visual feedback to the user. The Power light on the left is a tri-color LED that is red when the unit is in off. When the power button is pressed, the light turns orange indicating the device is in standby or in the process of turning on. Once the unit is ready and operational, the light turns green. The light on the right provides visual feedback that the IR remote signal is being received. The light in the middle is currently not used on this unit.
The right side of the unit has the Power (on/off) button, IR remote sensor and an eSATA port. Both host (Type A) and client (Mini-A) USB ports are provided. We used the client port to load content onto the internal hard drive from our main computer. When a cable is attached to the client USB interface the Fusion HD will display "USB or eSATA Client Mode" on the screen. The USB host port can be used to access external files from a memory stick or USB hard drive. Unfortunately we did not have an eSATA drive to try out with this media player.
The back panel on the Nixeus Fusion HD has several interfaces for the latest in digital connectivity. The unit comes with a universal (100-240VAC) 12V, 2.5A power adapter with the input power jack on the left. A standard 10/100Mb LAN connection is provided along with a WiFi b/g/n dongle that plugs into the USB port. More on this later. Digital audio (S/PDIF) can be connected using the toslink optical or coaxial interfaces. HDMI is the interface of choice and the Fusion HD supports it for both video and multi-channel audio. The video resolution/rates supported are 480p, 576p, 720p50, 720p60, 1080i50, 1080i60, 1080p24, 1080p25, 1080p30, 1080p50, and 1080p60. All of our testing was done using the HDMI interface since our receiver could decode the audio directly through this single connector. A traditional A/V port that outputs composite video and two channel audio is also provided. While this is a nice feature to include, the real A/V performance comes when using the HDMI interface with HD material.
Hard Drive Installation
The Nixeus Fusion HD media player supports an internal Serial ATA (SATA II/3G up to 2 TB) hard drive and includes mounting hardware. Installation is a breeze and requires the user to remove the four housing screws to gain access to the inside. For testing purposes, we installed a 1.5 TB Hitachi hard drive. Everything fit just right and it literally took a few minutes for the installation. Normally, I would be concerned about the hard drive overheating, but the Fusion HD includes a small fan to keep the drive and electronics cool. There is some fan noise, but it is fairly quiet. Once the drive is installed, the unit has a much heavier feel. There are a couple of ways to access the internal hard drive. Users can physically connect to the Fusion HD unit or access the drive through the network. We preferred using the network to access the internal drive since it was much convenient.
The Nixeus Fusion HD remote is one of the great strengths of this unit. The size is great and the button layout is logical and relatively easy to use. Trying to use a media player with a small remote or one with poorly placed buttons makes for a challenging experience. Even some of the good media players out there with otherwise great features, lack a remote that is user friendly.
The buttons on the remote are a little small, but certainly functional. The Power and Home (Main menu) button are located on the top for easy access. The Output button (selects between HDMI and composite video) and Setup button are located below them. The upper center has the numeric buttons along with the skip forward and backward buttons. Back, Info and Volume (up/down) surround the upper side of the navigation (left/right/up/down) buttons. Below the navigation buttons are a set of color coded (Video, Music, Picture, Media) buttons. When watching movies the forward scan button selects between 1.3x, 2x 4x, 8x, and 16x. Backward scan can be 2x, 4x, 8x, or 16x. Buttons for Subtitle, Stop, and Repeat are followed by Language, Zoom, and Rotate (for pictures). The last set of buttons are Menu (Menu of DVD films or directory levels when navigating), A/B (Set/Cancel A-B repeat mode), and Slow/Slide (Slow forwards and backwards at speeds 1/2x, 1/4x,1/8x). The remote uses two "AAA" batteries that are included.
The only real negative is that the remote lacks backlighting. This can make it difficult to use in poorly lit environments such as a home theater. We would have expected at least glow-in-the-dark buttons, but no such luck. Believe it or not you get a bit used to using it without having to actually see it. Alternatively, more serious users may choose to include the IR commands in their high-end universal remote or controller.
We connected the Nixeus Fusion HD media player to our Denon AVR-5308CI receiver. This receiver handles all our A/V sources, decodes all audio formats and send the video on its merry way to our Anthem LTX-500v video projector. This is a typical home theater setting that the Fusion HD media server easily handled. The unit had no problem passing raw multi-channel DTS and Dolby Digital bitstreams to our receiver and it sounded fantastic. We also installed the Fusion HD media server in a more typical configuration with a flat panel and no other secondary audio system. Again, the Fusion HD had no problem providing excellent audio and video quality in this configuration.
For those using a direct connection to a flat panel screen, it is important to set up the digital audio outputs correctly. This will likely be different than what users may want for a multi-channel home theater audio system. For example, if the flat panel audio is used, it is best to set the Digital Audio Output to On and define each of the audio formats to output PCM. This will allow the audio to be passed to the display through the HDMI connection. Each audio output can be set to S/PDIF & HDMI - PCM, S/PDIF - RAW, or S/PDIF & HDMI - RAW. The RAW settings allows an outboard processor to decode the audio formats as in the case of our connected receiver. Otherwise, the Nixeus unit will decode the audio and send it out as PCM, which is what most flat panels expect.
The Fusion HD supports so many formats it is difficult to cover all of them. What we focused on was the typical formats users will likely want to see in a media player. Playing music from our collection of MP3s worked perfectly and even displayed cover art when available. The Fusion HD also has the ability to playback ISO files (both standard and high definition formats) making it convenient to access content from a single file. Standard unencrypted DVD (Video) file structures are also supported with this media player. In fact, this is one of the most reliable media players I have come across. As with all media players, bandwidth is especially important when streaming content, so if your wireless connection or file server limits the data rate, you will probably see the effects in the form of choppy video. WiFi offers convenience, but in many instances has proven to be less reliable when high sustained data rates are required. This unit was no exception and we had the best performance results using the wired ethernet connection. Luckily the Fusion HD supports both an internal hard drive as well as an external USB drive. Both of these performed very well. Alternatively, a wired 10/100Mb ethernet connection also provides a reliable connection.
The Nixeus Fusion HD media player is a powerful and flexible design that produces excellent audio and video for your entertainment system. This media player is certainly a step up from earlier designs we have reviewed and it seems very reliable. For those looking to stream HD content in their system, it is important to make sure enough bandwidth is available to get a stutter-free video stream. A fast server with a direct wired connection is the most reliable. If you have been looking for a media player that supports the latest formats and hosts a wide array of interfaces, the ($200 street) Nixeus Fusion HD is an excellent choice. This is the best stand-alone media player we have seen to date at this price point.