Friday, December 17, 2010

Sigma vs Realtek

This is an update on the current scenario since my previous post in March. The HD media player world is still dominated by chipsets from Sigma and Realtek. Sigma came out with the first HD media player chipset in 2008 while the cheaper Realtek chipset came out a year later and majority of the HD media players are now using chipsets from these two manufacturers.

Here's a partial list of popular media player brands using the two chipsets to give potential buyers some idea. Realtek has more manufacturers but mostly in the medium to low end market while Sigma has more players in the high end market apart from the popular WDTV Live. High end players will have more functionalities and may even have a blu-ray player built-in.

Sigma - WDTV Live, Popcorn Hour, Egreat, Dune Smart, HDX BD1

Realtek - ACRyan PlayOn!, Asus O!Play, Xtreamer, Patriot Box Office, Seagate Freeagent, Egreat, Yangxi HDPro+, Noontek, Eaget, Hornettek Phantom, DVico

Below are some items for comparison.

Video format support
Realtek - all common file formats.
Sigma - same as Realtek except it cannot support RMVB.

RMVB (RealMedia Variable Bitrate) files are very popular in the distribution of Asian contents such as Japanese Anime and Chinese TV series and movies so if you are going to use this type of files, then you must pick a media player that uses the Realtek and not the Sigma chip. Thus the popular WDTV Live is out in this case as it uses the Sigma chip.

Audio format support
Sigma - all common audio format including HD audio such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA.
Realtek - same as Sigma. Earlier versions of the Realtek chipset could not passthrough these HD audio but newer versions now have overcome this problem.

PQ or picture quality
Sigma has the better specs on paper but many prefer what they see from Realtek. There are supporters in both camps so it is very much a personal preference.

The Sigma chipsets generally have higher clockspeed than Realtek chipsets but probably not significant in real world applications.

Please note that the firmware used can also affect the performance of the player. New brands and models are coming out fast and furious and some may even change camps (Egreat seems to have models in both camps) so best to check the specs of a particular model to see what they can offer. The best is to bring along some test videos and physically check that your video can be played if this is possible, before parting with your cash. The
iboum website is a good place to learn more and check the specs of most commonly available HD media player.

Ronald Kwok

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HD Audio and Realtek 1055

Wow, almost 9 months have passed since my last post so it is time to add a new post that is long overdue. I mentioned in that post that I would talk about other attributes of a media player and I have actually forgotten what they were. What I can think of now is the user interface and firmware updates.

Before that, just an update on the Realtek 1073DD/1283DD chipset. The main problems with these chipset is that they cannot passthrough Dolby True HD and DTS-HD MA audio. To remedy this, Realtek released enhanced versions of these chipsets called 1073DD+/1283DD+ so if playing these HD audio files are important for you, go for players with these Realtek chipsets. The Sigma 864x and 865x chipsets can already support these HD audio formats so no issue for Sigma players using these chipsets.

For the lower end (i.e. inexpensive) media players, the user interface is pretty basic and more or less the same. Usually it will allow you to change settings for the system, the video and the audio to suit you own preference and requirement. Then there will be menus to select your photo, music and video/movie files for playback and also for simple file management like copying and deleting files. The more expensive players will have more elaborate user interface that are more appealing to some users.

The above are mainly cosmetic but more important is the support in terms of firmware update. User will come across problems for playing some media files and the manufacturers will come out with new firmware versions to overcome these problems. Thus it is important that the players that you buy come with this support apart from the physical support of repairs and maintenance. Make sure it is not one that is here today but gone tomorrow and there are plenty of these, mainly coming from China.

All players will also come with a remote control, ranging from teeny tiny ones to full size versions. So the choice is yours but most low-end players do not have any control buttons on the player itself (apart from the power on/off button) so a reliable remote control is important to keep you in business.

A common complaint is that the fan that is normally built-in a player is noisy and spoils the listening pleasure. So some come without fan but run the risk of over-heating. Realtek has come out recently with a new chipset that runs cooler. This is the R1055 but the downside is that this does not support networking so not Wifi or LAN enabled. For users who only play media files from a HDD, this is not an issue so they should consider players using this 1055 chipset since it will be cheaper than those with network support. And also dead quiet since there is no need for a fan for cooling. Anyway, let your ears be the judge as far as fan noise is concerned.

There is now a wide range of HD Media Player in the market. So choosing a media player can be quite daunting. To make it easier, first you must know what you need it for and then check the specs for what it can do. If they match, go for the one within your budget after considering all the other factors mentioned. Good luck.

Ronald Kwok.