Many of you are probably in the same situation: a collection of thousands of images (in my case more than 3GB of them), hundreds of music albums, a few movies. All sitting in your computer, somewhere downstairs. Somewhere too small for your visitors to gather together and look at this multimedia content. In an ideal situation I'd like to have this content available in my lounge, where I could go through it from my sofa, showing the pictures from our last vacation trip, while playing my preferred music genre.
The D-Link DSM-320 Wireless Media player promises exactly this. This slim component connects to a home network, either through Ethernet or WLAN (wi-fi). D-Link claims the DSM-320 adheres to the Universal Plug-&-Play (uPnP) AV specification. According to the manual, the DSM-320 is the first client device to be certified and comply with the new Intel Networked Media Product Requirements (INMPR) standard, allowing it to communicate with other UPnP AV media devices.
The DSM-320 slim design
But does it deliver? I think it actually stops short of that. The player itself is a nice design, with all connectors needed to plug it into your home AV system, but the software is not consumer grade yet. Performance is poor and the user experience is frustrating after a while.
How does it work? First a Media Server software must be installed on your computer. This software will broadcast content to media client devices, in this case the DSM-320. Although D-Link claims to adhere to a standard, I found that using other media servers does not always work. Some are recognised by this player, but content is not streamed in a compatible format. The Media Server software is very rudimentary. Start it, point to the folders where your content is located, and it'll make the content available to media clients on your network. Make sure you don't have a personal firewall running on your computer, or at least make the proper changes to allow this program to communicate on your network. The current version 1.01 available from their website includes a rescan button to refresh folders' contents, but does not include any new function. I would suggest a status dialog showing what clients are currently logged in, an activity log for security, and perhaps an allow/block list by IP address or range. After all you don't want to have your content seen by your neighbour if your network is compromised.
The Media Server
Next you have to plug the DSM-320 into a TV or AV stereo receiver. The user interface is shown on your TV screen, and everything is managed via an IR control. The interface is actually very easy to use and intuitive. The remote control fits nicely in the hand, and is easy to follow the instructions and menu structure.
Component, composite, left/right audio, optical, coax and S-Video connectors
Remote control: complete
A Wizard starts the first time you turn the device on, and goes through configuring which network interface to use (either 802.11g or Ethernet), scanning the network for an Access Point (if using wi-fi for connection), searching for a media server (the one installed on your computer), and then preparing the player. Thumbs up for this Wizard.
Network configuration: easy setup with static IP or DHCP
From now you're ready to enjoy your content - or not.
The DSM-320 supports the majority of audio, video, and image file formats. You can stream MP3, WMA, WAV, and AIFF files. MPEG1/2/4, AVI, or Xvid format are decoded by this player, and JPEG, JPEG2000, TIFF, GIF, BMP or PNG formats are supported.
But the current firmware 1.02ww2 (1.02 in the US) seems a little flaky. I found lots of problems. For example, even with this player at mere 6 meters from my Belkin 802.11g wireless access point it reported a signal strength from 2 to 50. Most of the times closer to 2 than to 50. This was enough to make the whole system stop. Watching a DVD from a VOB file was impossible, with buffering every 5 seconds. A MP3 song would stop every 20 seconds for one second. And pictures would fail to open with a "This format is not supported" - even though the same picture was shown successfully a few minutes before.
Site survey: floating from 2 to 50, 6 meters from the wireless AP
Of course connecting the player via Ethernet made these problems go away. After all it was connected at 100mbps, more than enough. But this defeats the purpose of this player having wireless features.
Then the user interface itself showed other problems. For example it wouldn't extract ID tags from WMA files, only from MP3. My whole collection of WMA made the Genre, Artist, Album menus a non-working thing. Then the usual FFWD, FRWD and PAUSE wouldn't work with WMA - only with MP3. And when browsing the folders (albums) on my server I would expect to be able to press ENTER to open the folder while pressing PLAY on a folder name would play its contents. Instead PLAY opens the folder and shows its contents. If I press PLAY on a song it'll only play that song only, nothing else on that album.
Ok, so I have to create playlists. Not on the player though. I had to create them on my server. Thanks to a small program that scans my computer and creates the lists I had this done in a few seconds. I've created a list of all songs, and a list per album. Only then I could play a full album or the whole content. Even so, the connections problems plagued the thing, and songs wouldn't play more than 20 seconds without buffering content.
The DSM-320 main menu
The DSM-320 music selection
The only thing that seemed to work almost ok was the Pictures function. Press play on a folder name and it'll start a slideshow. Or press ENTER to open the folder and browse its contents. You can browse using icons or file names, and it works well. Except that each page holds a limited number of icons or file name entries, and it take a second or two to load the next page. If the wireless network doesn't stop working again. In this case you'll get the "Unable to open file. Please try again message" that I got used to.
Just in case you're wondering, my Belkin 802.11g router is located 6 meters from my lounge, no line of sight, but no doors either. I frequently use my iPAQ h4150 Pocket PC or my Dell laptop with a 802.11g PC card from here without a problem. We even have an Apple iMac in the lounge, connected via wi-fi, and these play nicely with my router. I've tried changing channels, turning burst mode on and off, and other tricks. Nothing seemed to work.
I was really excited by this product until all these problems showed up and I had to contact D-Link support. I first sent an e-mail to the local support, and since I didn't get a reply I followed up with a call to the local toll free number. After talking to a support person the suggestion was to RMA this unit to check if the wi-fi is not defective. I also downloaded the latest firmware, which was available a day after the DSM-320 arrived here. Unfortunately the problems reported weren't fixed with this new firmware. I then fired an e-mail to D-Link worldwide, which replied in a few minutes with a canned "Please contact your local support" message.
Too many wireless problems
My conclusion? Well, the DSM-320, as it is now, is going back to the store. This network device is not ready for consumer market yet, although the idea is brilliant. I've already downloaded an update for the server and a new firmware for the player, but I have no idea of how long it will be before a decent version is up. I'll toy around with alternatives to stream MP3 from my desktop to AV receiver and control the media with my Pocket PC. I think the Bluetake Hi-Phono Bluetooth Audio Kit plus the 92135 Rudeo Control for Pocket PC will have to do for now. I will try and find a solution for image streaming somewhere else. Perhaps the Microsoft Windows Portable Media Center?