Full bodied, feature rich.
While HTPCs were all the rage in the mid to late 2000s, many households have taken a liking to Media or Entertainment centers, which are the next evolutionary step in set top box. Prime examples of these are the D-Link Boxee Box, WD TV Live and Apple TV as well.
As the name implies, the Imation Grand Entertainer is designed to be one powerful, all-encompassing media center box which takes care of all your media content and delivers it straight to your HDTV. The Grand Entertainer boasts full 1080p playback of most of today’s common video file formats, including Blu-ray ISOs and .mkv files with multiple subtitle and audio support. On the Audio front Imation has everything covered from AAC to FLAC and everything in between.
Supporting most modern file formats aside, the Grand Entertainer also has the ability to record video on its 1TB built-in HDD from any external video source connected through component cables, whether it be your old VHS player (remember those?), camcorder or satellite decoder. The other cool feature is the Grand Entertainer’s ability to download torrents directly onto its HDD, albeit controlled via your PC. As far as streaming media on your network is concerned, you can either do it over Ethernet or through WiFi. However, you’ll need a USB WiFi dongle for that. Last, but definitely not least, is the Grand Entertainer’s ability to copy & paste files directly from any external USB drive onto its built-in HDD. This really comes in handy if you don’t have a PC around and need to get that movie from a friend of yours who just happened to have it on their USB stick.
So features aside, let’s jump into the actual performance of the device. The first thing that struck me about the Imation Grand Entertainer was its bulky size, which seemed especially huge compared to the ultra-slim WD TV Live Hub that I own. The second thing that I didn’t like about the Grand Entertainer was the fact that every time you start it the internal HDD starts to spin up loudly, which leads me to believe it’s a 7200rpm HDD inside. The WD TV Live Hub has a completely silent start, and given its slim profile, I’m assuming it has a 2.5” 5400rpm HDD inside. Surprisingly the Gran Entertainer takes quite a while to startup, around half a minute; but once it’s booted up, it runs pretty smooth while scrolling through menus.
The interface here is pretty simple and straightforward, showing “All, Video, Audio, IMS, Video In, Timer Record and Setup”. While browsing in “All, Video and Audio”, you’ll have a choice of viewing files from the internal HDD, external USB or streaming it over the Network or via UPNP (for external NAS). “IMS” lists all the Internet services, i.e. Picasa, Flickr, Weather and Internet TV. Too bad there’s no YouTube channel, it would’ve really come in handy. Using these services, as well as playing back video (all DVD files, 720p and 1080p) was a smooth experience. There’s nothing different here than other Media Centers. I will say that while the WD TV Live Hub only picks up audio and video files from external sources (in this case my external 500GB HDD), the Grand Entertainer shows all types of files. Obviously it can’t play all these various (unsupported) formats, but it comes in handy while copying and pasting items.