It’s a neat piece of kit, but has a few flaws and irritations. On the software side of things, there’s nothing wrong that can’t be fixed by a firmware upgrade. However, it seems that no such upgrade exists yet! I’ve included a quick one-line conclusion below, but keep reading for many more pictures and my full review.
Conclusion: Gingerly Recommended (if you need heaps of portable storage and it doesn’t cost you much more than a standard external case).
The Welland MediaBank ME-747AP is an external hard disk drive (HDD) enclosure that you can connect to your computer (using the provided USB2 cable) to use as external storage. You can also connect it to your television (using the provided audio and video cables) and watch videos, listen to music, or look at pictures stored on the HDD.
This will mainly be a visual review of what’s involved in putting the MediaBank together, followed by a text review the MediaBank’s capabilities and user interface (Unfortunately, I have a CRT television so I can’t really take photos of the user interface).
The contents of the MediaBank box include the enclosure itself, all necessary cables, a CD with user software, a small external power supply, and a remote control (with batteries):
You don’t really need to use the CD because the drive presents as a USB mass storage device (which is recognised automatically by most computers) . It includes a manual, firmwares for different languages, and also some “one touch backup” (OTB) software if you are running Windows.
The MediaBank is just an enclosure, so you will need to buy a Parallel ATA (PATA) HDD to use with it. Here you can see the tray with data and power cables ready for installatio of a HDD:
I picked up a 250GB Western Ditigal HDD for AU$92 from NetPlus in Osborne Park. After fixing it to the tray, I realised that one corner wasn’t flush (and this prevented me from sliding the tray back into the enclosure):
Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the plastic on the power cable connector was preventing the HDD from sitting flush (it was pressing against the edge of the tray). I don’t know if this is a general design fault, or just a problem when using this enclosure with this model HDD.
I took the MediaBank to the chopping board and trimmed the power connector. Problem solved:
With that done, the tray slid easily into the enclosure and installation was complete! All things considered, the entire process was relatively painless.
Now onto the user review. Connecting the MediaBank to my computer (running Ubuntu Linux) was completely painless; I just had to plug in the power and connect it using the USB2 cable. I created a FAT32 (the required format for multimedia operation) partition using the Gnome Partition Editor (GParted) and then mounted the new filesystem. For testing, I copied a few videos, photos, and music files over. As an external mass-storage device, this enclosure works exactly how you would expect it to.
After copying a few files onto the HDD, I moved the MediaBank next to my television. The video cable offers composite or s-video output. I used composite since my television doesn’t support s-video. The audio cable is stereo only (no surround and no digital). When I turned on the MediaBank, an image appeared on the television with the message “Optimize your system…” written across the top. It stayed like that for 15 seconds or so and I thought I must have to do something to the files on the HDD before I could watch anything on the television. This was not the case.
I think the message was meant to read “Optimising your system… (please wait)” because after a (fairly long) bootup time (which happens everytime I turn on the system), the main menu appeared. It consists of four categories: Photos, Music, Video, and Files. You need to choose the correct category for what you want to do before browsing for file. For example, nothing will happen if you are in “video mode” and select a music file. This seemed a bit odd.
There are a number of odd and irritating things about the interface. When you fast forward a video, you can’t stop fast forwarding by pressing the “play” button. You have to press “pause” and then “play”. The thing that irritates me the most is that the filenames are cropped so that you can only ever see the first dozen or so characters. This means that files in a series all look exactly the same (eg. “some_show_episode_1″ and “some_show_episode_2″ both come up as something like “some_show_ep”). The names should scroll automatically or at there should at least be some function to check the full filename.
The MediaBank is meant to be able to output in 720p mode when using the s-video connection. I wasn’t able to test this functionality, but I’m not sure I see the point for anything aside from photo viewing. To the best of my knowledge it can’t play 720p videos (I tried playing a few; the video didn’t play and the menu screen became corrupted) so it would just be scaling videos up anyhow. (That said, it might be worthwhile if it improves the menu system so that you can actually read full filenames.)
If you are after a media player and you already have a home network, I’d recommend buying a cheap XBOX (they’re discontinued) and installing XBOX Media Center. The user interface is miles ahead of the MediaBank and you can stream most videos over your network. On the other hand, if you are in need of a mass storage device and want to take videos to friends’ houses (who may not have home computers), I would recommend getting the MediaBank if you need a lot of storage and you can find one for not much more than a standard enclosure. If you don’t required much storage, maybe a smaller (battery powered) device is a better investment.