Review: HP MediaSmart Server 2.5 Software Update

by Alex Kuretz on April 22, 2009 · 19 comments

in Reviews

Last week HP announced a new software update for the EX485 and EX487 MediaSmart Servers, and I gave you the details from the press release on what is included in the update. Since then, HP has given me early access to the final version of the 2.5 update and I’ve been trying it out for the past few days. The update has just been released to the public, and my objective with this review is to show you in more detail the new features in the 2.5 Software Update, and show where there have been improvements from what I encountered in my review of the EX485 and EX487 Servers at their initial launch.

I have submitted to HP all of the issue identified below a couple of days ago and have not yet gotten a response as to whether they are known issues or if there are workarounds to resolve the issues I encountered. I’ll update this article when I hear back from HP.

Revisiting the 2.1 Software

To start off the review I would like to offer a brief refresher of the issues I found with the EX485 and EX487 at the time of its initial launch. The issues include:

  • eSATA port not port-multiplier aware, which means multi-drive eSATA storage enclosures would only allow usage of a single drive.
  • Lack of customization options for the Media Collector
  • Failure to stream some files via Twonky that would play successfully in the default Windows Media Connect or the older version of Packet Video
  • Strange behavior streaming via Twonky to Windows Media Player 11 on my PC
  • Lack of Single-Sign-On for HP Remote features, forcing users to authenticate multiple times when accessing different features
  • Incorrect track counts in the Web Media Streamer
  • Incorrect track orders for albums in the Web Media Streamer
  • Long songs aborting after 4-5 minutes of playback
  • Inability to rotate photos in the Photo Publisher
  • Photo Slideshow controls and captions obscuring photos in the Web Media Streamer
  • Lack of configuration options in the S3 Online Backup feature

HP Video Converter

The HP Video Converter is a new feature that is designed to convert the videos on your server into a format that is compatible with a wide range of mobile and in home devices, to make it simpler and easier to view your content. This feature has some real appeal to me as my primary methods of streaming media in the home is with an HP MediaSmart Connect x280n digital media receiver and an Xbox 360, both of which have decent file support but do not play everything in my collection.

I was pleased to note that the Converter could tell when files were being copied to the server and marked them with a “Waiting” status until they had finished being copied, at which point the status changed to “Pending” in preparation for conversion. However I did read a note in the help files explaining that files copied over by the Media Collector feature could sometimes begin encoding before the file copy was complete, which would result in a failed conversion.

The list of supported file types includes AVI, MOV, DVR-MS, MP4, WMV, and unprotected DVD VOB, and they also claim to support most digital camera video clip formats. In my testing the HP Video Converter was able to handle most files that I tried, with a few noteworthy exceptions.

One of the more frustrating issues I encountered was that the Converter always failed while converting the files created by my Sanyo HD700 720p camcorder. It produces MPEG-4 H264 files which is the same output format as the converter, so I was hopeful that it would convert them to the Mobile quality format for streaming over the web as a way to show home videos to remote family members. Unfortunately the conversion always failed with no indication of why.

I tried placing some TV recordings from my Vista Media Center PC, hoping to be able to use the mobile format to watch the latest MotoGP or World Superbike races while away from home since DVR-MS is in the supported file list, however these also failed to convert with no error message beyond “Failed”.

The Converter did not detect some sample .MTS files I had downloaded, so if you have a camera that records AVCHD files then you will be out of luck with the Converter. MKV files did not convert, which wasn’t unexpected but would have been nice, and some older avi files from my previous digital camera (Indeo Video from a Panasonic DMC-FZ10) failed.

After checking the help files I found the following page which also lists the unsupported file types, and explains most of the “Failed” cases I found above.

File types unsupported by the Converter

File types unsupported by the Converter

I did have a lot of successes as well. I have a collection of older videos in various formats such as Windows Media Player 7 and old versions of Divx that were unplayable on any streamer, and the Converter was able to transcode them into a format which I could then view on my Xbox 360 and MediaSmart Connect.

My single biggest complaint about the Converter is the lack of feedback provided when a conversion fails. The MP4′s from my Sanyo digital video camera would not convert and simply gave a “Failed” status with no indication of why or where to look for more information. The Event Viewer logs simply stated that “Conversion failed”, and I could find no log files related to the Arcsoft conversion software to explain the failure. It is true that the Help documents eventually gave me the likely reason for the failures I encountered, however I think a better job could be done. My suggestion would be for HP to add a “Details” button next to the “Re-Convert” button that would provide a pop-up window with more information about the file, its conversion status, and any errors that were encountered.

Remote Media Streaming

Readers of my initial ex485/EX487 review will recall that this feature is one that I had been quite excited about, but ended feeling rather let down by quirks and bugs in the Twonky media streaming software. The user interface had erroneous file counts, long songs would abort playback after 4-5 minutes, and I wanted to see some better ways to filter and list the items in my music library.

I’m very pleased to see that HP and Twonky have worked to not only include the missing Video component of the web streaming experience, but they have also redesigned the interface and made a number of usability improvements. The Video streaming feature works quite well with in the home streaming the mobile quality videos, and does work when streamed remotely however I experienced fairly long load times. The Flash application would report a “Loading” status for a minute or more as it presumably built up a play buffer. I was monitoring my home bandwidth during this time and was uploading at a rate of approximately 900kbit/sec which is relatively fast for a home internet connection. My guess is that the software is acting conservatively and choosing smoothness of playback over short load times. Once playback began the quality was definitely acceptable and playback was smooth with no stutters, though obviously your upstream internet connection will be the ultimate factor in determining your experience streaming remotely.

Video Media Streamer

Video Media Streamer

I also had issues playing a large 3.5GB HQ movie that the Converter had made from a DVD that I had ripped, even from within the home over gigabit network. The Web Media Flash application issued an error as soon as I would click on the file, and then seemed to want to buffer the entire movie which caused my system to swap heavily and slow to a crawl. The buffering of the entire movie was verified by loading a smaller, 375mb mobile version of the movie and streamer loaded the entire movie into memory on my PC. The high quality version of the movie never did play successfully over the Web Media interface, however the mobile quality worked fine.

The Video tab also now includes a status page for the Video Converter so you can see if your videos on the server have successfully converted while you’re away from home.

Media Streamer Converter Status

Media Streamer Converter Status

Both the Photo and Music tabs have received a face lift, bug fixes, and improved functionality. For music there is a nice graphical thumbnail view of albums, sort by Artist, as well as folder and playlist browsers. The incorrect file count issue appears to be resolved, and from the documentation and my own initial brief testing the songs stopping playback after a few minutes issue has also been resolved.

Music Media Streamer

Music Media Streamer

Photo Media Streamer

Photo Media Streamer

Photo Viewer

Several users have asked for the ability to password protect their photo albums, and HP has delivered this feature in the 2.5 Software Update though in a much more simple way than the Webshare of the previous EX470/EX475 MediaSmart Server. When a user is logged in and creating or editing photo albums, they have the option to make the album either Public or Private. This option is toggled by a simple click, and if an album is made private then visitors must be one of the 10 users of the Server and authenticate with their username and password before they can view the Private albums.

Photo Viewer Private Albums

Photo Viewer Private Albums

The ability to protect albums appears to be the only noticeable change to the Photo sharing application, as the Photo Publisher still lacks the ability to rotate images and the images in the Photo Viewer are still obscured by the slideshow controls and the caption.

It does appear that HP has (finally!) implemented Single Sign On for all the HP Remote applications, so that a user only has to log in once and their credentials are remembered across the Remote site for that session. This is a nice enhancement that simplifies usage of the Remote Access features.

Twonky Media Streaming

There were several issues encountered with the Twonky media streaming software in the original EX487 release, most notably being unable to play some files that were playable in Windows Media Connect and the previous Packet Video version that was delivered in the EX470/EX475 1.3 Software Update. I was hopeful to see improvements in this behavior in the latest version of Twonky, and so spent a bit of time testing various formats.

The issues I’d previously seen when streaming to Windows Media Player 11 seem to have been resolved. I wasn’t getting the missing track listings or missing album art, or strange layout issues that I’d seen in the previous version. One commonly used feature I found missing was the ability to view Videos by Folder while attempting to stream to my MediaSmart Connect.

I also noticed some remaining issues with file compatibility in this latest version of Twonky. I had some HD WMV files that would play on my Xbox 360 in Windows Media Connect and the Packet Video software on the previous MediaSmart Server, yet would not play via the latest Twonky.

Overall this newest version of Twonky is much improved over the version that shipped in the original EX485 and EX487 servers, and I’m pleased to see it largely working quite well.

Client features

The Client PC also gets an update in the 2.5 release. This is a manual installation step that you will need to perform after updating the server.

Client Update notification in the Server Console

Client Update notification in the Server Console

After installing the client update, you’ll find two new tabs on the Client Control Center. These are links to the Web Media Streamer and a welcome new addition in the form of a Media Collector Status page.

New Client Control Center

New Client Control Center

One of the biggest complaints people had about the Media Collector was a lack of understanding and visibility into what exactly it was doing. The new Media Collector Status page has a “Status Information” tab which displays info about what the Media Collector is doing and detailed messaging for specific failure cases that is supplemented by improved help files. There is also a Connectivity Test tab for verifying proper connectivity with the server.

Media Collector Status

Media Collector Status

Media Collector Connectivity Test

Media Collector Connectivity Test

The Status Page is a nice step, however it only shows you the results of the last aggregation pass, so usually when you check it you will see it showing 0 files copied which could cause confusion or reduce the usefulness of this feature. I look forward to hearing from users that have experienced issues with this feature in the past if it is now working better for them and if the new Status page helps them troubleshoot.

I’m happy to report that the Media Collector has successfully aggregated a large quantity of content from my Client PC onto the server, in the neighborhood of 160 albums, hundreds of pictures, and a handful of video files.

Mac Features

The 2.5 Software Update ReadMe states that there are improvements to the Mac Backup feature, and now you should be able to resize the backup disk instead of having to delete all the backups in order to resize it. Unfortunately I don’t have a Mac at this time to explore this feature.

I’ve already covered the iStream iPhone application in my earlier hands-on review, please see that article for a full description of our experience using this feature.

Easter Eggs

And what major software update from the MediaSmart team would be complete without a new Easter Egg or two? While exploring the HP install directories on the server I found an MP3 file stored in the HP Application Folder on the server, under the D:\folders\{6f* directory. I then did some exploring through the interface and by using Reflector was able to determine the sequence required to make the song available in your Music shared folder.

  1. Open the Server Console to the Media Collector Settings Tab
  2. Uncheck all options under “Music Source”
  3. Check “By PC folder structure” under “Music Organization”
  4. Press the ALT key on your keyboard, and click the “Enabled” radio button under “Music Collection Status”
  5. You should now have a new “Jester Jay” folder in your Music shared folder that contains a rather amusing reggae tune performed by one of the MediaSmart Server developers
Music Easter Egg

Music Easter Egg

In the course of looking for the way to unlock the secret MP3, I was first digging through the Flash application used by the Web Media Streamer, and stumbled upon another Easter Egg in this software release. If you press the CTRL-SHIFT-2 keys at the same time, a new window will pop up that contains the infamous “TPS Report” from the popular “Office Space” comedy movie.

TPS Report Easter Egg

TPS Report Easter Egg

Note that the form is editable so you can create and print your own TPS Report!

And finally, my favorite new easter egg is what I’m dubbing “HP Super Bouncy Balls”. Using the same CTRL-SHIFT-alt keypress combination familiar from the LED LightShow, combined with clicking on the headline words “HP MediaSmart Server” at the top-left of the HP Server Console tab will launch a super bouncy ball that careens its way around your screen. Subsequent clicks while holding the keys down will result in more bouncy balls, each with their own collision and physics. It looks like about 20 balls or so is the max, and gravity seems low while kinetic energy seems high which will keep these balls bouncing around for hours. You can end the excitement by clicking on the same location with no keys pressed on your keyboard. And no, the screenshot doesn’t do it justice so you’ll need to give it a try.

HP Super Bouncy Balls

HP Super Bouncy Balls

Summary

I know that I’ll get a lot of feedback from EX470 and EX475 owners that are disappointed to not be getting these features in the 1st generation servers. The only info I can give at this point is that HP has told me they plan to release an update to those servers in the May time frame that will include the S3 Online Backup and Mac Backup features.

Overall I’m pleased with the 2.5 Software Update. HP has put a lot of work into improving and enhancing the EX48x MediaSmart Servers, and in the process are continuing to set a high standard for other Windows Home Server OEMs to meet.

I’ve only had limited time to spend with this new release, and I’m very interested to hear the feedback you have on how the update is working. Do you like the new features? Are the bug fixes and enhancements resolving the issues you were experiencing? Please let us know in this forum thread or here in the comments.





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 16 comments }

Terry April 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Sounds great, however I suggest you wait anoter year or so if you are considering a HP home server. By then HP will probably come out with something bigger and better and will pull the rug out from under you and not upgrade your 485 or 487. Yes I am a bitter owner of a one-year old 475!

Graham April 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Not letting use 470 and 475 owners upgrade is continuing to sour my opinion of HP which was at an all-time high directly after my purchase of my wonderful 470 unit.

I’m hoping that they at least let us early adopters PAY for an upgrade at some point. Most users that would be interested in paying for this upgrade will have already upgraded the available RAM in the system, so claiming hardware incompatabilities is just not going to cut it, as the processor power is not that dissimilar between models.

HP, here’s an open letter if you are reading this. Please! do right by us. I actively evangelize your product and you have at least 3 additional sales due to this. WHS and the MSS have spread, thusfar, mostly by word of mouth by those of us obsessed with the product. Most of your current owner base is probably composed of poeple that are, honestly, pretty offended by your lack of reciprocation of our loyalty. Do right by us. We know there is initial development effort required to equalize the platform, but do it, and we WILL pay for the upgrade. Thanks.

On a side note, why the hell can’t they just make any features of the new platform that are memory intensive disable depending on how much RAM is in the system? In many ways it is good that the MSS presents itself as an appliance. This contributes to the ease of use. But lets not make customers have to run out and buy a new one every six months please.

Mastiha April 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I agree completely Graham.

As HP now support memory upgrades on the EX47x, surely they could just have the update test whether your system has enough memory and proceed with the upgrade if it does.

The current behavior from HP has severely soured my opinion of the product. I have unsold at least 10 Mediasmart servers from my recommendation to friends but one thing is 100% certain now. I no longer recommend the unit due to HP practices which simply equate to laziness and greed in my view.

Ed April 22, 2009 at 5:35 pm

GOODWILL as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Disposition of a Pleased Customer to Return to the Place where He has been well Treated.

Alex, thanks for the great post. It is very informative and well written. Lots of Goodwill created here.

HP – nice product but you are going the WRONG WAY on your creation of Goodwill.

WireBoy April 22, 2009 at 8:28 pm

S3 Online Backup and Mac Backup features for EX47x owners? C’mon HP- throw me a friggin’ bone! That’s such a lame attempt that comes nowhere near the appropriate treatment of your early adopters. This is a very bad decision IMHO HP. I’ve been using HP products for 35 years, dating back to RPN calculators in college. I presently own an EX475, HP laptop, TouchSmart PC, and 3 X280N MediaSmart Connect extenders. This proves that I’m far from an HP basher. However, this behavior causes me serious displeasure and concern. Please reconsider your treatment of EX47x owners.

Rick April 22, 2009 at 8:45 pm

First of all, thanks for the great writeup Alex.

Now, to all of the EX47x owners; I feel your pain as I have been an early adopter of many technology products. However, I did so with the understanding that I was paying a price for being on the cutting edge. The price? Moore’s Law.

I empathize with you, but I think it is unreasonable to hold a manufacturer such as HP to a standard where they are expected to continue R&D on early generation products (such as the EX47x).

They upgraded the hardware of the MSS in order to deliver more functionality; which is in-line with just about every other technology manufacturer. If nothing else, I would think the EX47x customers should be THANKING HP for spending their time and money retrofitting any of their new features.

Did you expect Sony or Samsung to upgrade your 1080i HDTV to 1080p when it came out? No, but you purchased that 1080i HDTV knowing full well that 1080p was on the horizon.

Again, I feel your pain…and will even more so when the EX48x replacement is released in the next year or so. But I won’t lose sleep over it, and I certainly won’t clog up the comments section and message boards complaining about the inevitable obsolescing of my MSS.

Mastiha April 22, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I understand what you are saying Rick but this ain’t no LCD.

The OS is the same, the difference between the CPU’s is minimal so the only real performance difference is in the base memory.

As HP now support the memory upgrade for the EX47x, there would be very little performance difference.

As mentioned, HP should provide the same update to the EX47x owners and have it auto detect whether there is enough memory or not before it installs.

Graham April 22, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Actually, it was far from clear to me that HP was about to bump the specs of their MSS when I bought mine. These are not for playing Crysis or Bioshock. They are a data appliance, and one that HP seemed to have thrown a lot of effort into providing functionality above and beyond what microsoft provided. I was impressed that, far from the useless pack-ins we have grown to expect when you buy a pc, all of the extensions that HP included in the MSS were well reasoned out and well implemented (with some exceptions).

WHS was designed to run under miniscule power requirements to be efficient and not hit a problem that only needed a tack hammer with a sledge, so, actually, I was a bit shocked when HP decided to upgrade the power of their platform so quickly, and even more annoyed that they have forked development of their WHS extensions and left us in the dust.

I would liken a device like the MSS to more like the PS3 than a PC. You buy one and you treat it like an appliance. You turn it on and off, use it for its functions, maybe tweak it around a lot. And you ALWAYS expect it to work properly, and expect the manufacturer to keep it running smoothly and engender your loyalty with improved functionality over time.

Now with the PS3 sony has a LOT of motivation to keep their consumers happy as they need to gain ground on strong competitors, and keep their loyal fanbase loyal. But for whatever reason, HP is not motivated by the same factors.

HP was doing a great job helping MS grow the WHS platform by providing a device that so well excercised all the strengths of the platform that its owners couldn’t help but spread the good word. Now… not so much.

Tim April 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Well, I just did the update and everything seemed to go fine. I cannot stream any music through the web server though. Also, every time I go to configure TwonkyMedia, it does not save my settings. If I click the “startsharing” link, it tells me I have no music. Then the “stopsharing” link completely disappears. My music streaming worked perfectly an hour before I did this update to 2.5. Somehow TwonkyMedia seems to have gotten all jacked up. I also tried the iPhone MediaSmart app, but it keeps telling me the server is not responding. I can use IE to connect to the MediaSmart server and see all my shared stuff, including all my MP3s, but the iPhone MediaSmart app cannot connect. Anyone else having issues?

Tim

t-bone April 22, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Tim,

I dont know if you posted this in the forum but… twonky needs to rebuild the DB. it is suggested you force a rebuild. hope that helps

Jorge April 23, 2009 at 9:18 am

AMEN with Graham, Mastiha, ED and others. HP is not gaining advocates within us as long as they don’t work to keep the EX47x happy, I was very happy until this 2.5 issue. I will be looking forward to May update to see what comes in itto make my decision about this…. SELL THE 2.5 UPDATE, give it away, but make it available.

chickr April 23, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I have a EX485 early this morning everything was working fine, Then when I tried to log on to the server the home console would not come up just a blue window with no Icons.The Hp media smart control center opens fine though. I called HP they said the server was doing an update and to leave the blue window open and it should populate (icons) when the services are done,If not call back in a couple of hours. Has anyone else had this problem???
Chuck

chickr April 23, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Update needless to say the window never updated. Once again I called and this time I was told that I had to go to control panel and unistall hp media server & windows home sever connect from each of my clients, then log onto the server through my network connection an go to software, open homeserver connect software and run setup. This had to be done on each client. It is working now hope this helps someone.
Chuck

Milachy April 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

Thank you HP for reminding me once again why I should never buy a 1st generation product.
This is the last time I will buy an HP product.

Longwalker April 24, 2009 at 9:03 am

HP’s decision not to provide the 2.5 feature set to the EX47x product line has broader implications for sales across everything they own. Our company recently RFI’ed companies to replace over 500 printers and when HP’s name was brought up, my manager specifically mentioned the resistance of HP to support the EX47x devices with simple software upgrades (he and I both own an EX475). While support in one company division may be seperate from another (printer, servers, etc.), perception of poor product support affects the whole. Seems like HP would rather trip over a $20 bill to pick up a dime.

Ima DingBat April 25, 2009 at 1:26 am

Here’s a link right to the top guy at HP: http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/email/hurd/index.html. May I suggest that all of you folks make your righteous displeasure known to Mr. Hurd!

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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