The AR Digital MediaBridge offers a host of welcome features, including the best TV-based user interface we’ve seen. It also includes a not-so-welcome cooling fan. Most of its remaining shortcomings should be easy for the manufacturer to overcome.
Curious to discover why such an otherwise elegant device requires videocard-style cooling, despite its external power brick, we immediately popped the MediaBridge’s lid for a look-see. Inside, we found proof that some older components never really go away: The MediaBridge is built around AMD’s Geode CPU, and nVidia’s nForce2 chipset and nForce2 IGP integrated graphics processor.
Fortunately, the fan is quiet enough—and the MediaBridge’s performance is fabulous enough—that we can ignore it. With all that power under the hood for decoding, we had no problem playing Call of Duty 2 on our host PC while a ripped DVD version of The Abyss streamed to our home-theater system over an 802.11g network (802.11b is also supported, as is wired Ethernet). The unit’s back panel bristles with connectors, including optical and coaxial SPDIF; component, composite, and S-video; a DVI port; and a USB 2.0 port (which would be much handier on the front panel).
The MediaBridge was an absolute breeze to set up and use, with an intuitive user interface and a terrific remote. Dedicated buttons call up directories of movies, music, and digital photos stored on your PC, and a “go back” button makes simple work of backing out of nested menus. The remote can be programmed to control up to five other components, too.
Support for nearly every A/V format (including 480p and 720p HD for video, and 1080i HD for digital photos) left us doubly disappointed by the absence of support for subscription music services, such as Rhapsody. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the box supported Internet radio or Universal Plug-and-Play server software, but it doesn’t. The manufacturer promises Rhapsody and Internet radio support “soon,” but it was less certain about the general UPnP support that would open Yahoo’s music service among others. All these shortcomings could be easily remedied with a software upgrade; but as it works now, the MediaBridge falls just shy of Kick Ass.