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A Real Treat - Full Review
on October 19, 2012
As an avid consumer of technology and gadgets, I like trying newly released products. Some products such as modern smartphones are ostensible technical marvels. Others, like the Micca Speck in this review, are unassuming but warrant a closer look to see how well they perform. I've owned several different digital media players, built HTPCs with XBMC, and setup UPnP servers, so this product is familiar territory to me.
This is a very small media player, narrower and only slightly thicker than a pad of post-it sticky notes, and about as heavy. The case is made of matte black aluminum with plastic end caps. The front of the player contains a USB jack and a SD card reader slot, and the back holds the power jack, HDMI, and a 3.5mm AV jack. In all, the Speck is a simple looking player with just the essentials.
I used the Speck with my secondary TV, a 42-inch Panasonic 1080p plasma HDTV. An HDMI cable is not included with the player so I had to use my own. After plugging in the power, the main menu came up quickly after a delay of about 2 seconds, which is practically instant since modern TVs take longer than that to turn on. The default video output is 720p but the player can be set to remember to use 1080p instead. Speaking of settings, there are just a few of them in the player's setup menu for configuring the player's video, audio, and general behavior. While some may wish for more settings, I felt that the Speck's simplified configuration is ideal for its targeted casual users.
The player's menu system is reasonably intuitive and straightforward to use. Anyone who can browse for files and folders should feel immediately comfortable with it as I was. After selecting a media type from the main menu, the user can then go find what they want to play from an attached USB drive. Only media files of the selected type will be shown, so for example if you have a movie, its cover art JPG, the sound track MP3s, and a couple of subtitle files in the same folder, only the movie file will be listed, making it easier to find and play. In summary, the Speck's interface is a bit sparse, but is simple to use and is responsive without any perceived lag.
The Speck supports both USB and SD cards. I tried a variety of older USB thumb drives, SD cards of various sizes, as well as a recently purchased 1TB USB 3.0 hard drive. I did not encounter any issues with the drives. According to the manual, drives up to 2TB can be used. This means I can literally have my entire media library on a portable hard drive and play it using the Speck.
The biggest question for any digital media player is how well it plays videos. I don't have every single video format claimed to be supported by the Speck in my media collection, but I ran through all of the most popular formats such as MKV, MP4, AVI, MOV, ranging from standard definition TV shows to 1080p full movies. The player exhibited no issues with MKV, including newer files with compressed headers. Both internal and external subtitles were supported. The largest MKV file I tried was about 20GB, which played with no visible skips, freezes, lags, or dropped frames. All surround sound formats were supported but output was stereo only. Support for MP4 and AVI files was also good, though these were mostly older files with legacy codecs. I tried a few full BD ISO files and to my surprise they played, but with severe frame dropping at 1080p. Lowering the player's output to 720p made the BD ISOs play smoothly. This is the equivalent of using a knife to chop firewood, so I don't fault the Speck for not playing BD ISOs smoothly at 1080p.
Visually, the video playback has all of the sharpness of 1080p, with excellent colors that are accurate and well saturated. The screen shots provided in the manufacturer's product photos accurately portray this so take a look at those if you wonder what the image quality will be like. Some of the dark scenes show gradient bands, but I've seen this in more expensive players as well. I don't know if the video compression itself is more to blame, than the player's decoder. In consideration of its low price, however, the Speck's video output can only be described as spectacular (no pun intended).
Apart from playing videos, the Speck also plays music and photo slideshows. I gave a cursory try-out of these features and found them to be acceptable given that the player's primary purpose is to play videos. Lack of features such as play lists or random shuffling the entire music library limits the usefulness of these secondary capabilities.
Taking in the Micca Speck as a whole, what it does very well is delivering the type of "it just works" usage experience to casual users. It provides the convenience of being simple to use, while packing surprisingly powerful video playback hardware. The simplified interface with limited settings encourages even advanced users to just sit back and enjoy the show. If such a media player fits with what you are looking for, I recommend that you too take a close look at the Micca Speck.