capsule review

D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player

At a Glance
  • D-Link DSM-330 DiVX Connected HD Media Player

    TechHive Rating

    The DSM-330 is long on potential and short on execution.

The idea behind D-Link's DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player is a good one: Connect the box to your TV, and it allows you to access DivX video--one of the best-looking types of Internet video, and one that has an economical bandwidth requirement--from your PC in another room via a wireless connection. You can sit in front of your TV and use the included remote control to browse the video content on your PC's hard drive or, better yet, browse and stream DivX movies from the Net.

If only it were that simple in reality. In fact, this product premieres (it's slated to ship later this quarter for $300) at a time of extreme flux in the Web-video world, and whether it's a genuinely viable product is currently unclear--for a number of reasons.

I used an HDMI cable to connect the DSM-330 to a 50-inch Pioneer plasma HDTV. Other connection options, such as S-Video and composite, are available too. I then used the supplied CD to install the DivX Connected server software on a new Gateway desktop running Windows Vista. The setup wizard asked for my broadband-connection type and for the file locations where I keep my video, music, and photos.

I used a Belkin 802.11n wireless router to connect the DSM-330 to the PC and to the Internet--after a bit of trial and error. The problem arose when the DSM-330 failed to recognize the DivX Connected server software on the PC. Only after I reinstalled the DivX Connected server, launched the server as an administrator in Vista, and disabled the Windows Firewall did the set-top box finally recognize the DivX server app. The instructions never addressed these requirements, so I'm not sure how a user at home would have figured them out without calling D-Link support.

The sample 720p DivX videos provided with the server software indeed looked high-def, playing at a video quality that appeared at least as good as the HD content I get from my cable company. The DSM-330 supports only the 802.11g wireless standard, not the newer, faster 802.11n standard, but I saw no pixelation or screen freezes. The DivX HD codec, because of its leaner compression, requires a connection speed of only 6 megabits per second, compared with the 20 mbps needed to transmit pure H.264 HD video.

The video interface that the DSM-330 shows on your TV is basic; it displays the title and time at the top, with a navigation slider below the video window. You can fast-forward or rewind at 8X to 300X play speed.

The box will play MP3 files, but if you want to play Windows Media Video (.wmv) and Audio (.wma) files, you must first transcode them into DivX format using a small add-on program (provided by DivX) that runs with the DivX server on your PC.

Unfortunately, streaming DivX video directly to my TV (without my having to leave the couch and fiddle with the PC) was no picnic. What I got was a lot of waiting around. Even with shorter videos, and even with the relatively fast broadband connection I used for my testing, I usually had to wait at least 20 seconds while the stream buffered. Then, after I watched for about a minute, the DivX videos usually froze and refused to resume playing, or they quit altogether and put up an error message on the TV.

Finding additional DivX video on the Internet--and moving it from there to the PC to the set-top box--will be the real challenge, however. On the very last day of our testing, DivX announced the shutdown of its Stage6 site, by far the largest repository of DivX video on the Internet, and the DSM-330's main source of DivX content on the Internet. There's even a Stage6 button on the remote control. DivX created Stage6 as a showcase for movies encoded with the DivX codec, but the company says that it was forced to shut down the site because of high operating costs.

DivX, which developed the firmware that runs the DSM-330, says it has formed partnerships with the Jaman, Veoh, and Vuze video sites to replace Stage6, but those sites currently don't offer video encoded in DivX. The DSM-330, I'm told, will receive other types of streams, such as Flash, Windows Media Video, or H.264, and transcode them into DivX on your PC using the server app. The only way you can get video originally encoded in DivX is by installing special plug-ins on your DSM-330 that allow you to tap into the smaller caches of DivX video produced by the likes of National Geographic.

So the DSM-330 product will live on, but the "DivX Connected" part of the name hardly fits anymore. Without Stage6, at least for now, it's just another streaming-media box, and not a particularly special one. It's a simple, straightforward streamer that provides a clean and simple interface, but not a lot of extra navigation and content-discovery features.

The makers still say that the device will debut in the United States before the end of June at a price of less than $300. But I would have a very hard time recommending it to anybody until its content and distribution issues work out.

--Mark Sullivan

This story, "D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The DSM-330 is long on potential and short on execution.

    Pros

    • Lets you stream content directly from the Internet
    • Video quality is very good

    Cons

    • Installation is tricky
    • DivX content is hard to find
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