Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from viewing as part of this site because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but TopTenREVIEWS is no longer updating this product’s information.
The TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award winner, the HP MediaSmart Server (model EX495) with Windows Home Server, is a well-rounded, all-in-one system for managing and playing back digital media content on multiple devices, plus it can back-up your computers.
Renting or purchasing movies or TV shows, along with the ability to playback videos, music and photos from and to other devices (including computers, gaming consoles and handhelds) make this a solid choice, and lands it in third place on our ranking of home media servers. It is the only device on our survey that can act as a computer back-up, compatible with both Windows PCs and Macs.
See our line-up of home media servers site to review the complete line of devices we reviewed.
The HP EX495 MediaSmart Server is a terrific all-in-one device that will centralize the digital media on your computers, gaming consoles or handheld devices, while also backing up your Windows or Mac (via Time Machine found in Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard). The user interface (UI) is intuitive and it’s fairly easy to navigate through the menus.
The only real issue could be that it does so much, and relies on a computer for all forms of content and control (unlike most other home media servers), that it can be a bit overwhelming. If you want to buy or rent movies or TV shows, you will need a Windows PC to access the CinemaNow service. CinemaNow isn't supported on Mac OS X.
The system comes with 1.5TB of hard drive space, with an option to add in more drives, maxing it out at a whopping 17TB of space. At that point, it can be considered a corporate/enterprise-style back-up server. For home use, we doubt more than 1.5TB will be needed, but if you have plenty of PCs and Macs that need backing up, this is the best way to use it.
The device can play back video to computers, gaming consoles and handheld devices with resolutions up to 1080p. Stereo surround sound is supported and sounds fantastic through a television (HD or standard definition, SD), or through a home theater surround sound system.
The HP EX495 MediaSmart Server can back-up purchases of movies or TV shows bought on a Windows PC through the Best Buy CinemaNow service. You can also rent movies, too, but not TV shows. Then you can enjoy watching them on your television or Windows PC. CinemaNow isn’t compatible with Macs, unfortunately.
The HP EX495 will support almost all formats of video (H.264, WMV, QuickTime, unprotected DVDs, etc.) and music (MP3, WAV, etc.). It works well with streaming from many popular computer MP3 players such as iTunes and others. In fact, there are terrific compatibilities with an Apple computer’s iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie libraries, so you can easily store and stream that content via the HP MediaSmart Server.
The HP Video Converter for a Windows PC will take almost any unprotected video and automatically convert it to a more universal video format that will easily play back on multiple devices (TVs, computers, gaming consoles, etc.). The resulting file will be encoded to H.264 video and AAC audio video clip, maintaining the original source’s quality. By the way, by “unprotected video,” we mean video files that aren’t encrypted, such as major DVD or movie and TV downloads protected by DRM.
With the HP iStream app (download and add it to the EX495), you can stream content to laptops, compatible gaming consoles and handheld devices like the iPhone, iPod, Zune and others. Plus, the user doesn't have to be near the HP MediaSmart Server; in fact, they can be away on vacation or a business trip, and still access content. Other home media servers can't claim this feature.
Another add-on (this one from the Microsoft Home Server Console) allows users to connect their TiVo boxes to the EX495 to store and playback content. Photos can also be easily shared or viewed through the HP MediaSmart Server’s Photo Publisher and Viewer.
The EX495 HP MediaSmart Server will connect with Windows PCs (Windows 7, XP and Vista) and Mac computers (Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier). Use this to work with the device to stream music, etc.
There is phone or email technical support, along with a FAQs/Knowledge Base, a user forum, quick start guide and a user's guide. If you have a technical problem or question, you will get the answers quickly.
The HP MediaSmart Server (model EX495) is a good choice for an all-in-one entertainment and computer back-up device, making it a good choice among our list of home media servers. It will organize your digital life and will allow you to view it on many different devices. However, a computer (Mac or Windows) is required, plus the device does so much, it can seem a little overwhelming, but it’s a good choice if you don’t want to separate devices to manage and playback media and back-up your Macs or Windows PCs.
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