Video geeks will love the new D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player, a media receiver that enables you-to stream high-res videos, photos, and music from PC to TV. I’ve been playing around with this $299 device for a few days now, and even though I’m not an expert with digital video, the DSM-330 is very flexible and a lot of fun to use. You’ll have to wait a few weeks, however, because the DSM-330 won’t go on sale until early July (although you can pre-order one at Amazon.com for $249.99).
In addition to content stored on your PC, the DSM-330, which connects via 802.11g Wi-Fi or Ethernet, also employs plug-ins that enable you to view online content like Digg.com stories and Last.fm Radio audio. It also has a Services category that delivers games and other on-demand content; for now, however, the content available via Services is pretty slim.
And that’s OK because, for most users, the primary focus of the device will be its ability to deftly handle a very wide variety of video formats and display video at resolutions of up to 720p. It connects to your TV via HDMI, S-video, component cables, or SCART (a European format that I had never encountered).
As with every media streamer on the market, there are some gotchas. The biggest for the DSM-330 is that it’s a Windows-only device, although DivX says it’s working on a Mac version of the DivX Connected software. Also, because the DSM-330 has no hard drive on which to store files, you must power on your PC when you want to use the device so that it can grab content from the computer.
The first thing you’ll notice when you take the DSM-330 out of the box is that it’s a bit of a plain Jane. Unlike the Apple TV, which is spiffed out in white and silver, the DSM-330 is a boxy black-and-silver slab that’s about the size of a hardback book and has a geeky Wi-Fi antenna poking up from the back. It won’t win any beauty contests but, chances are, its intended user base won’t care so much about that.
Setup was pretty simple and flawless. Pop in the disc and a wizard guides you through installing the DSM-330 DivX Connected PC software setup. Once that’s done, you connect the device to your TV and an on-screen guide walks you through settings that include screen resolution and wireless or wired networking (you enter your Wi-Fi network’s encryption key using the included remote control). Once this is complete, the TV connects to the “server” software on your PC, and you select the folders on your PC in which you store videos, audio files, and photos. And that’s pretty much it—you’re ready to go.
The interface is well-designed and easy to navigate. When the DSM-330 is turned on, your TV displays a screen that enables you to select from Videos, Music, Photos, Plug-Ins, and Services. The remote is pretty intuitive and allows you to control all features without cracking a manual.
I downloaded five movies (which averaged a pretty lightweight 800MB in file size) from the Web to my PC, and the server software recognized them almost without fail. I hit one snag when I moved a movie file out of the folder in which it was downloaded, which somehow made the movie invisible to the player. I put the file back in the folder and the video played as expected. A DivX spokesman says that this is a known issue and will be fixed in an upcoming release.
Video quality will depend on the quality of your download, of course, but most of the videos that I downloaded were smooth with nice detail and no hiccups. You can fast forward through the streaming video without buffering time-outs, which was particularly impressive given that my network is 802.11g. Supported video and audio formats include DivX, Xvid, WMV9, MP3 (but only up to 360Kbps), WMA, and M3U playlists
Viewing photos from the PC and listening to audio tracks was straightforward and similar to most any other media receiver. I did have a problem with album art, which often was not transferred with the track. And sometimes I noticed a lag when fast-scrolling through music. Other than that, though, photos and audio worked like a charm.
The Plug-ins feature is a great way to get Web-based content on the TV, and it takes just a second to add a plug-in to your PC. (To see what’s available, check out this Plug-ins page.) Of the plug-ins that I sampled, the Digg.com headlines, Google Maps, and Last.fm Radio were standouts. They worked well and enable you to access Web content from the couch (and without a PC keyboard). Some apps, like the Facebook plug-in, are janky and may not work. Note that these plug-ins are developed by DivX Labs community members, as are themes you can use to customize your DSM-330 background, icons and menu styles. The breadth and quality of the plug-ins are likely to increase once the device is widely available in the United States. It very well could be a very cool feature that other more locked-down media receivers lack.
The Services content for now is very limited. That may change once the device hits the store shelves, but as of today none of the games or videos was very appealing.
Overall, however, the D-Link DSM-330 is a solid and easy-to-use media streamer that will appeal to those who know their way around video download sites. I'm no expert, but I found the device entertaining and a breeze to use. In fact, I have unplugged my Apple TV for now.