Once the VMP75 boots and is ready to use, your TV will show the attractive main menu as seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3: VMP75 main menu
First, I'll explore the Setup menu to see what options we have to configure the box. Figure 4 shows the top-level menu used for configuration.
Figure 4: VMP75 Setup menu
Under Network Setup you'll find the basic IP address configuration such as DHCP (default), static, DNS settings etc. And if you're going to set up a wireless adaptor, this is the menu where you'd do it.
Under System Setup there are a number of standard settings for audio and video output, language, screensaver timeout, etc. Note that as far as screensaver, I found that at least once, it failed to turn on, so beware if your TV is susceptible to burn-in.
This menu is also where you'll set up your zip code so that the weather report shown back in Figure 3 is correct for your location. An interesting setting found in this menu is Hard Disk Share Setup (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Hard Disk Share Setup for the VMP75
This feature allows you to share one of the plugged in drives to your local network and is designed to make it easy to move your multimedia files to the VMP75 for use. In my case though, this feature gave me trouble. When using it from MacOS version 10.6.4, I found that some files would copy and some would fail with cryptic errors.
To do the reverse and access other network shares, I moved back to the main menu (Figure 3). There you'll find a sharing menu that's designed to let the VMP75 access file shares (SMB or CIFS) on your network. Once again, this feature gave me trouble. I have a number of servers on my network that should have been visible to the box, but only about half showed up. And even with those that did show up, I had mixed results.
Some folders would not be listed at all, and others, when accessed would give an error of Network connection failed and then the box would lock up for several minutes. Note also that there is no way to manually enter info for the servers. If the VMP75 doesn't auto-detect them, you're out of luck.
To see if anyone else was having these types of issues, I searched around and found that it's a common problem with VMP75 users. So, if you were looking to use the VMP75 and primarily access your media via network shares, I'd hold off until Viewsonic releases a fix.
Luckily, you can access your multimedia files via several alternative methods including a local disk plugged into the unit. Figure 6 shows a display of movies from a local disk when I navigated down into one of my directories.
Figure 6: Movie navigation from the local disk
When browsing through your files, there are several options for display, selectable from the menu on the right. In this case, I've selected the thumbnail view. It's a bit hard to see, but the movie I have currently selected has started to play inside the thumbnail, a nice feature but one that can bog down navigation a bit.
You'll note that there is no true "thumbnail" on my videos and you're limited to movie selection just based on file name. As is the case with most all of these boxes, there's no way to navigate and chose movies based on metadata such as actor, director, year, awards, etc.
And how did the VMP75 do with my movie collection? Viewsonic advertises support for a wide range of formats and codecs, including biggies such as H.264, XviD, DivX, WMV 9, MOV, VC-1, MPEG 1,2,4, etc. My experience was that the VMP75 did very well with my motley collection of videos. Not everything played back. But since I have standardized my collection to Mpeg4/H.264 most everything I really cared about played fine.
And how about High Definition video? Viewsonic also advertises the VMP75 is capable of handing 1080p video. And my experience shows it can. I had no issue with any of the HD clips in my collection. During playback, "trick modes" such as fast-forward and reverse also worked fine both with high definition and standard definition videos. One of my old AVI files caused the VMP75 to get in a bit of a confused state during a reverse play operation, but that could have just been due to a bad file.
To play music, you'll navigate to a directory with your files for selection. As with the movies, you are selecting based on file name and not on metadata such as artist, album, year, genre, etc. Figure 7 shows the display while a song is playing.
Figure 7: Music Playback
It's hard to see from this shot, but the display did include the album-art while the song was playing back. In the thumbnail view of the directory, the album-art was not used. Once a song is selected and playing back, you can navigate away and the song continues to play. Just as with video, a wide variety of audio formats are supported so check out the Viewsonic web site for specifics. Note that no music or video file restricted with DRM will play.
The VMP75 has the capability to display your photo collection too. Figure 8 shows the menu when I had navigated down into one of my photo collections.
Figure 8: Photo selection menu
From this menu you can select a single picture for display or you can hit the "play" button on the remote to start a slideshow. If you had previously started music, the slideshow will be shown with your music playing in the background. The slideshow feature was fairly bare-bones, but it worked well. Viewsonic advertises support for JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and TIFF files.
If you want to access your files across the network and the file-share method is not working for you, all's not lost. The VMP75 also has the ability to access your data via the UPnPAV protocol which is widely supported and available on Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems as well as most home computer operating systems. Figure 9 shows the top-level menu of the box where I've selected the UPnP option.
Figure 9: UPnP selection
In this screen, the box has automatically located four different servers on my network, and one of them (iMediaShare) is actually running on my Android cell phone. When you're accessing your data via a UPnP server, a lot of the functionality you get will be dependent on the server side. Some will ignore multimedia files that it doesn't understand even if the client would be able to render them.
For example, my Android server only serves up photos, even though I also have video and music on the phone. Some servers will scan your files and present an organized collection others will just return a simple file list. It's up to the server.
In my case, the UPnP feature worked fairly well. Once I selected a server and navigated into a directory, the basic video, photo and music features coming from the server were pretty much indistinguishable from local playback giving me all the same navigation, sorting and playback options.