The Diamond Multimedia AMP1000 is an Android Media Player. It’s about the size and shape of a USB DVD drive, but it has the guts of an Android smartphone or tablet.
You can hook it up to your TV and use the wireless remote control to run Android apps on a big screen. That includes YouTube, Netflix, and other media apps including web browsers and games. The AMP1000 can also work like a media extender by streaming video from another computer on your home network.
The AMP1000 sells for about $130, but some stores are offering better prices.
Diamond Multimedia sent me an AMP1000 to review, and I’ve been playing around with it for the past few days. It’s an interesting alternative to a Google TV device.
While the Google TV platform has a user interface designed for big screen TVs, there are still a limited number of Android apps available for Google TV devices like the Logitech Revue or Vizio Co-Star.
The AMP1000, on the other hand, runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and has access to the full Android Market. It can run pretty much any app you can run on a smartphone or tablet — although some apps are tougher than others to use with the included wireless remote control. Almost every Android app was designed first and foremost for touchscreen controls, not remote controls.
Update: Diamond Multimedia has released an Android 4.0 software update for the AMP1000.
The device is powered by a 1 GHz AMlogic AM8726 ARM Cortex-A9 single core processor with Mali 400 graphics. It has 512MB of RAM and 4GB of built-in storage.
Around the sides you’ll find 2 USB ports, an SD card slot, Ethernet jack, HDMI port, and audio and video ports. The media player also supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and has an antenna that you can adjust to improve signal strength.
The included remote control is a wireless RF remote. That means it talks to the media player over a radio frequency rather than infrared, and you don’t need to point it at the box.
You can use the remote a few different ways. It has a QWERTY keyboard that lets you type with your thumbs. There are also special function keys for Home, Menu, Back, and Notification functions — but they’re not all labeled clearly.
For instance, there’s a green sticker with an arrow in the lower left corner. It looks like a back key, but it’s not a button, and pressing it doesn’t do anything. Instead, you can press the Esc key in the upper left corner to trigger a “back” action.
Pulling down from the top of the screen to look at notifications can be a little tricky with the wireless remote, so you can also press a button to open the Notification tray. You’d never know that by looking at the keyboard though. The button is just marked F3.
You can also use the remote like a mouse by waiving it around in the air. It has motion sensors that let it work sort of like a Nintento Wiimote. You’ll see a cursor on your TV screen, and you can move it around by waving the remote up, down, right or left.
Clicking on the left mouse button is the same as tapping the screen on an Android phone or tablet, and you can press-and-hold the button to emulate a tap-and-hold action (to bring up a context menu, for instance).
If you want to exit mouse mode or make sure you don’t move the cursor by accident, you can double-tap the center button. Then any time you want to move the mouse, hold down the center button firmly while moving the remote. You can re-enable mouse mode by double-tapping again.
There’s a power button on the remote control, and when you press it you get the option of shutting down the AMP1000 or going into standby mode. Shutting down will completely power off the device so that turning it on again takes 1-2 minutes. You’ll also have to push the power button on the AMP1000 itself to turn it back on at that point — the remote control power button only lets you resume from standby.
While the AMP1000 officially supports hardware video decoding of MPEG-2, H.264, and VC-1 video, I found that when I installed a third party media player like MX Player, it was also able to handle 720p HD DiVX files from my video collection.
The only problem is that it takes longer for those files to load than it does for H.264 video — but once they start playing, you can pause, rewind, fast forward, or do just about anything else.
On the other hand, Netflix video playback is a bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t have any problem streaming movies or TV shows over the internet — but they wouldn’t stream in high definition.
I hooked up the AMP1000 to a 720p television set, and Netflix movies looked a little blocky. If you have a 1080p TV, the low quality will probably be even more noticeable.
The Netflix app was also clearly designed for touch input and not keyboard-and-mouse input. So while you might be tempted to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate, you’ll find it easier to move through the video catalog if you enable mouse mode and swipe your way to the next file you want to watch.
The fast forward and rewind buttons on the remote can also be finicky. While you can use them with the default media player to, you know, fast forward and rewind, they don’t work in all media apps. And in some apps, (including MX Player) they function as zoom in, zoom out buttons.
Fortunately, most video apps for Android have touchscreen controls, so you can just use the air mouse feature to use the on-screen buttons to play, pause, fast forward, or rewind.
Other software (and root access)
Diamond Multimedia pre-loaded a number of apps on the AMP1000 including several online music and video apps and games including Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Some are easier to navigate on a TV than others.
The web browsing experience isn’t bad. Pages don’t load quite as quickly on the AMp1000 as they do on my HTC One X smartphone, but this little guy might be faster than my old Google Nexus One. I’ll have to run some benchmarks to be certain.
Since the device comes with the Android Market preloaded, installing third party apps is pretty simple. Just login with your Google account information to get started.
While the AMP1000 actually comes with at least two different file browsers installed, one of the first things I did was download ES File Explorer, because it makes connecting to shared network drives pretty simple. It worked like a charm.
Once I did that, I decided to see if ES File Explorer’s root browser function worked… it did. In other words, Diamond Multimedia ships the AMP1000 with root access enabled. You don’t need to root it yourself to run apps such as Titanium Backup or Root Explorer.
That’s kind of a good thing for those interested in hacking the AMP1000 — but it’s not necessarily great news for novices or anyone concerned with security. It’s much easier to mess up the operating system by deleting or altering the wrong files and folders if you have root access.
At $130, the AMP1000 is a little more expensive than an entry-level Google TV box like the Vizio Co-Star. It also doesn’t have a user interface designed for television sets.
But while the AMP1000 may not be as user-friendly as a Google TV box, it’s much more versatile, since it can run pretty much any Android app. It’s not pretty, but it works quite well as a media player, web browser, or casual gaming machine (although the included remote isn’t really ideal for playing games).
The AMP1000 also feels much faster than some other inexpensive Android-based devices such as the MK802. That’s probably thanks to the faster ARM Cortex-A9 CPU. The MK802 has an Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 processor.
The included remote control also makes the AMP1000 much easier to use from the comfort of your couch, since you don’t need to plug in a mouse or keyboard.
This media player isn’t for everyone. But if you like the idea of running a smartphone OS on a big screen so that you can access your Android apps on a TV, it could be for you. It also makes a decent media extender if you don’t feel like putting a PC (or Xbox or similar device) in your living room just to stream movies from your computer to your TV.
Or if you’re a hacker looking to work with a small PC-like device, you could probably find a worse starting point.
Since the AMP1000 is already rooted, I suspect it’ll just be a matter of time before we see custom versions of Android, or even other Linux-based operating systems ported to the device.