Firmware update brings file conversion, iPhone access to HP's MediaSmart ex485 / ex487

HP's MediaSmart Server ex487 (1.5TB) and ex485 (750GB) both received copious amounts of praise when launched late last year, but considering just how many issues the original two had (the ex470 and ex475), it wouldn't take much to best 'em. Today, HP is issuing its second firmware update of the year for the series, but the first ever for the newest duo -- and make no mistake, it's a big one. The v2.5 update adds in loads of new features, far too many to cover in this space, in fact. If you're interested in hearing more, follow us past the break for all the details.

First off, we should clarify that this v2.5 update is only for HP's latest MediaSmart Servers, the ex487 and ex485. HP informed us that the prior models simply lacked the horsepower and RAM to handle these new tasks. Also of note, the update will be provided free of charge for anyone who cares to indulge, and while a specific date has yet to be nailed down, it will be out for all to download before the end of April. Now, onto features.

HP has listened to its loyal MediaSmart buyers and thrown in quite a few much-needed additions. First up is automatic video conversion, which converts pretty much any non-protected (read DRM-laced) file for viewing on a portable media player. Specifically, we're talking AVI (DivX, XviD, MJPEG), MOV, DVR-MS, MPEG-2, MP4, MPEG-4, WMV and unprotected DVD VOB. Users can simply select full size videos to be downsized, and the server will automatically handle conversion in the background at lowest priority. In other words, the rather intensive transcoding process won't hinder your rig's ability to backup connected computers and stream media within the home. What wasn't clear is the exact resolution that you end up with, and so far as we could tell, there's absolutely no way for users to go in and customize that in any way. In other words, you get "a small file," but you have no control over its dimensions or format (it emits H.264/MPEG-4 files only).

The second big inclusion is the ability to stream to one's iPhone and iPhone 3G. The so-called iStream function requires a free iPhone application (which is currently making its way through Apple's certification process) and for Remote Access to be enabled on the MediaSmart Server itself. We're told that users can stream easily over 3G and WiFi, while anything more than low bitrate audio and compressed images will struggle on EDGE. The app enables users to check out audio, photos and video stored on the server right on Apple's iPhone, and we have to commend HP on the application's interface. For the most part, it looks exactly like the built-in iPod app, so it shouldn't be too tough to grasp once installed. There are three separate portals to dive into (Music, Photos and Videos), and there is absolutely no synchronization required. You simply login to your HP Server once, and afterwards you'll automatically be tunneled into your media so long as your Remote Access password remains the same. We should also point out that your streaming experience will greatly depend on your upload rate at home; if you're only pushing a few kilobytes up, you can't expect things to work too well remotely.

Lastly, HP is adding smaller, more subtle enhancements to the server itself including improved streaming, a more robust Media Collector, improved Apple Time Machine configuration and the ability to create public and private albums in Photo Viewer. Have a peek at a few screen captures above, and stay tuned for an exact launch date.