Astone Media Gear AP-360T

A great list of potential features in this PVR is undone almost entirely by instability issues, leaving the AP-360T as a unit best avoided.


3.2
CNET Rating
5.8
User Rating


Editor's Note July 27, 2010: Our performance update with a fresh unit as supplied by Astone has been appended to the bottom of this review. As the functional details of the unit are still the same, our comments on the design and feature set remain as they were.

Design

We've commented before that most small media player boxes all tend to look a bit similar. In the Astone Media Gear AP-360T's case, we feel we've hit a tipping point. If it wasn't for the Astone logo on the front of this bleak black box, we wouldn't be able to tell you who made it, or why, but we'd have a pretty good guess as to what it did. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the epitome of simple but dull design. There's a blue light on the front to indicate that it's on, type A and B USB ports on the front for connecting up remote storage, and component, composite, HDMI, Ethernet, USB A and SPDIF and optical audio-out on the rear.

The Astone Media Gear AP-360T's remote control looks fairly generic and busy, but the layout works well enough. The remote control itself is another matter, which we'll address a little further on.

Features

The AP-360T joins that rapidly growing army of little black boxes that tick multiple boxes in any survey of what your home AV gear can do. It's a digital set-top box with a single tuner. By adding a hard drive to it, it becomes a PVR. Either via an optional Wi-Fi dongle or via direct Ethernet connection it'll handle media playback from any UPnP source. Via USB you can play back directly connected files, or use a B type USB cable to connect to your PC for the same task. It's worth noting that you can't run both front USB connections at once.

In terms of media playback performance, the AP-360T supports MPEG-1 (DAT/MPG/MPEG), MPEG-2 (MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/IFO/TS/TP) MPEG-4 (MP4/AVI/MOV), DivX 3/4/5/6, XviD (AVI/MKV) H.264 AVC (TS/AVI/MKV/MOV) VC-1 (TS/AVI/MKV/WMV), WMV 9 (WMV), Real Video HD 8/9/10 (RM/RMVB) and FLV (FLV) video files at up to 1080p quality.

Performance: Original test unit

Setting up the review model of the AP-360T was a little more involved than most PVR solutions, because the unit we got came without any onboard storage. The price quoted above includes a 1TB drive, but it's interesting to note that the full colour instructions supplied with the AP-360T make upgrading or installing a drive quite a painless procedure. Even those who've never installed a hard drive before should manage that with a minimum of stress.

That's because the stress with the AP-360T is almost entirely concentrated on the user experience. Based on our testing, to say it's unstable might be something of an understatement. We quickly settled in to a routine of crashes, frustrating menu glitches, crashes, missed EPG recordings, crashes and, just in case we forget to mention it, crashes.

Special mention has to be made of the Astone Media Gear AP-360T's remote control. Not because of the layout of the remote, which is easy enough to learn. Not because of the fact that it obviously shared a lot of remote codes with other gadgets in our lab, which randomly switched on and off when certain buttons were pressed, because that's not exactly the AP-360T's fault. No, we'll make mention of the remote control because it's quite insane, especially on the current firmware. Any time we pressed the "up" button on our review sample, it would dump us in a folder view menu — the same folder view menu — irrespective of what we were doing. Thankfully most of the menu commands scroll from bottom to top, so it was feasible to just use the down button. It doesn't stop there, however. Coming out of a fast forward or rewind from a pre-recorded file brings up an onscreen menu, and the only way to back out of that to a clear picture is to go into a further sub-menu. On more than one occasion, trying to pause live TV rebooted the entire unit and wiped all channel listings and timer settings.

We figured this may be something of a firmware issue, but checking Astone's Web site revealed that not only were we running the latest firmware, but that we were far from alone in hitting these kinds of problems.

It's a huge pity, as the flexibility of being able to add your own storage overcomes the issues inherent in having only a single available tuner, and if the AP-360T fulfilled the expectations of its specification sheet, it would be a fantastic unit.

Updated Performance: Testing a replacement unit

We took Astone's claims that the problems we'd had with a review unit were entirely firmware related based on face value, although we had checked that the original unit was running the most up to date firmware available for it. Astone sent us a replacement unit with a 500GB hard drive installed and they assured us that the problems we faced no longer existed at all for any user. Having checked Astone's forums for the product we weren't entirely sure that this was necessarily the case, but if a product is improved with firmware updates over time it's fair enough to reappraise it, and with that spirit in mind we unpacked and installed the newly supplied unit.

Based on Astone's claims, we were expecting much less fuss.

But to put it bluntly, that's not what we got. Out of the box and installed, we hit exactly the same issue with the up button on the remote as we hit in the original review. Any time we hit up in any menu, even when it was needed, we would instead be dumped into a folder view of folders we couldn't even access. All we could do was hit the menu button to exit out to the main menu. Over a number of days of testing we did encounter fewer crashes than on the original unit, but still had at least one daily crash. One of those crashes wiped the timers we'd set up, and if we hadn't been watching it closely for exactly that kind of behaviour and were using it as a regular PVR, we only would have realised this when it didn't record anything. Media streaming from a NAS worked, but some files inexplicably and randomly stuttered, even when we ensured that the rest of the network was unhindered by other traffic.

Conclusion

Our original conclusion stated:

Astone's web page for the AP-360T describes it as "An ultimate HD 1080p media player, DTV receiver and HD video recorder for your digital home". We beg to differ. Buy something else.

Having tested two units provided by the vendor with the latest firmware, we'd still stand behind that conclusion. As with anything, firmware could make changes to stability, but at the time of writing, that clearly isn't the case with the AP-360T.



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GaryC1 Facebook
1
Rating
 

"Rubbish"

GaryC1 posted a review   

The Good:It's small

The Bad:It won't work

Re:- the Astone AP360T 1800PHD Media Player. I would say this unit is not one you should buy. The firmware is poor it has many problems

 

vinodwap4 posted a comment   
India

A question. I got this unit recently. However, I did not get the remote! How to use the system without the remote? I have hooked it to my Viera LED TV through an HDMI cable. Can I use the Viera remote and control this Astone unit?

AllanP Facebook
7
Rating
 

"Compares Favorably With Other More Expensive Alternatives."

AllanP posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Simple To Set Up And Use As A HD PVR

The Bad:No RF Out, The 'Don't Care' Auto Tuning Option Did Not Work In My Area.

I bought this unit as a replacement HD PVR for a couple of others which had died due to hard drive failure. Came with a 1TB SATA hard drive installed. So, out of the box and just connect it up. First thing, no RF out. For most, this would not be a problem as they would connect the unit to a TV via HDMI, Component or AV. However, I've used the previous units to send the signal to a second TV from the RF out, so they were also an antenna splitter. No matter, only one TV to set up. Plugged the antenna in, connected the HDMI cable, called up the menu and looked for auto-tune. This had the option of also selecting the Country or just Don't Care, which I did select just to see what the unit would come up with, which was...nothing. Backed up, changed to the Country selection (Australia) and all the channels I knew that I should have came in. Next step, try out the timer and record functions. Recording pretty simple, just press the record button on the remote. As this is a single tuner unit, you can only record the program the unit has been tuned to. The timer function can be via a single remote button or through the menu. It can either be set manually or through the EPG. If setting manually, it is pretty easy to add an extra 20 minutes or so to the advertised end time, especially with live sport. If using the EPG, a good tip is also to record the following program which can be subsequently deleted. Playback is also simple, Enter or Play on the remote, wait for it to start and then you can fast forward through the commercials at various speeds. I found 8x ideal so never tried to go faster. When you have finished watching, press stop, a key on the remote brings up the recording menu including Edit where you can choose to save or delete (in most critical parts of the setup, you need to confirm the action). Also, if you press stop before you have finished watching the recorded program you will have the option to resume from where you last watched. The ony thing I found took getting used to was that the Astone does not have an Exit key on the remote, those functions are accessed by the Return key. Also, instead of OK to access the main functions the Astone uses Enter. I sense that whoever designed the remote was more used to a computer keyboard, with the Return key also replacing Esc. So if you do not have a computer (then why are you here?) you will find the Astone a breeze to set up and use.

Danceman

Steve
3
Rating
 

Steve posted a review   

The Good:Cheap to buy

The Bad:Unreliable, locks up & prone to HDD wipes

I bought this unit with 1.76 firmware. (This was confirmed to be a unit post "HDD controller" recall. Worked fine with only minor annoyances for 6 months. Then lost HDD contents and became hopelessly unstable. Would go round in circles at boot time getting to the welcome screen, then switches itself off and starts again. Flashed to 1.93 firmware, HDD and boot operation returned to normaL for around a month. Second full HDD crash resulted in HDD replacement under warranty (BAD I/O). 1.76 firmware re-installed but resulted in instable opperation. 1.93a, 1.93 and 1.99m, 1.99 firmwares all tried, but lockups on browsing folder contents remain painfuly frequent. So hardware is now damaged or firmware flash is unable to return unit to a "clean" state.

To rate it based on capabilities:
Set top box (8/10)
PVR (6/10)
HDD NAS server (2/10)
Media player (3/10

Daniel
2
Rating
 

Daniel posted a review   

The Good:Cheap

The Bad:unstable, HDD broke and lost all my media

Hopeless machine. The poor menu system was something I could deal with, but when it promptly decided to stop working and effectively lost my whole media collection, the camel's back was broken.
Don't go near it.

Phil
8
Rating
 

Phil posted a review   

The Good:Price, simple to put together, lots of features

The Bad:Single Tuner, GUI (menus, epg, etc) not very good.

I've just downloaded a Taiwanese firmware (1.96) found through the Astone forum but not available from the AStone site. From what I've found this has fixed the majority of the bugs outlined in this review.

This firmware saves recorded programs something like this:

Nine_Digital_Gold_Coast_20101028_2230.ts

That might not be it exactly… but it looks similar to that. It means that recorded programs are not in chronological order (all channels are grouped together), and for longer named stations and the display size limitations mean the date isn't immediately visible. This is making finding programs difficult and I’m re-naming files to find them. Easy connection to PC means that's not hard.

All in all the device is cheap and you do get what you pay for. Just try and find another 2 TB recorder for $311 with these feature. In fact, just try and find another 2 TB recorder for that price!!!

But my high rating is in part due to the cost, and the item isn't without issues. For instance, you can only record in the same definition received for digital TV. There is no edit feature to take out adverts, split titles or join titles. That's not a big issue because there are some free .ts editing tools that can do this.

PLEASE NOTE - Users have found some advertised RAW sound options do not work due to hardware (chip) issues. These include SPDIF(RAW) and HDMI(RAW) and maybe even SPDIF(LPCM)).

But I'm using standard HDMI sound so no problem.

View the Forums!!

I'm still getting a feel for it but if it stays working as well as it currently is I'll buy another OR buy the 380 version (duel Tuner). Time will tell.

RCC
8
Rating
 

RCC posted a review   

The Good:Bought 3 now

The Bad:1st one very good, 2nd one keeps freezing, 3rd one is good

One of the 3 purchased keeps freezing. Otherwise I'm very happy with them. All have 1tb HDD.

Drew_downunder
8
Rating
 

Drew_downunder posted a review   

The Good:Price, size, ease of use, external drives

The Bad:Software is a joke, each patch provides more problems

I have had 2 machines for about 6 months now, big mistake was I updated the firmware, each patch provides more and more problems. Current bug is units freeze from time to time, stop recognising external contact
Overall I was happy with the units. They are easy to use, and the picture quality is fine, but no true HD sound.

Bob
9
Rating
 

Bob posted a review   

The Good:Features, updatable, price

The Bad:Single Tuner

good price and features, firmware is updradable, plays all my media player, buy only single tuner. editor's review is not so clear




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User Reviews / Comments  Astone Media Gear AP-360T

  • GaryC1

    GaryC1

    Rating1

    "Re:- the Astone AP360T 1800PHD Media Player. I would say this unit is not one you should buy. The firmware is poor it has many problems"

  • vinodwap4

    vinodwap4

    "A question. I got this unit recently. However, I did not get the remote! How to use the system without the remote? I have hooked it to my Viera LED TV through an HDMI cable. Can I use the Viera rem..."

  • AllanP

    AllanP

    Rating7

    "I bought this unit as a replacement HD PVR for a couple of others which had died due to hard drive failure. Came with a 1TB SATA hard drive installed. So, out of the box and just connect it up. Fir..."

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