D-Link MediaLounge DSM-520 wireless media streamer review

The DSM-520 is entering a pretty crowded sector of the entertainment technology marketplace, namely that of putting high definition video content on to your television in your living room, bedroom or wherever else you might want that HD to be.

Increasingly, the solution to this particular problem lies with the purchase of an HD DVD or Blu-ray disc player, the latter being part of the PlayStation 3 gaming console for example while the former can be picked up from internet retailers at very affordable prices these days.

But what if the video you want to watch is itself sourced from the Internet, or otherwise lives on your PC, and you want to deliver that to your TV in all its HD glory?

Enter another crowded market, that of the wireless network media streaming device, and the D-Link DSM-520. Better known for the kind of networking hardware that is most certainly not entertaining, unless you get your kicks looking at broadband routers, network hubs and wireless access points, D-Link is actually well placed to produce a kick ass piece of wireless home cinema kit. But has it delivered?

We were not too hopeful it has to be said, quite possibly because earlier attempts by the company with its MediaLounge range of such devices have been dogged by problems with system stability and video quality. The DSM-520 is better, but far from being perfect. Certainly the installation itself was actually a hassle free joy courtesy of the setup wizard, which allowed the unit to both find and hook into our non D-Link powered wireless network and be ready to roll within just a few minutes. We did have to run some software on the PC to enable us to choose which media content folders we wanted to share with the device, but that was equally plain sailing.

We thought we would ease into the media streaming process slowly and first squirted some photo slideshows in the direction of our big screen LCD TV. Lovely jubbly, no delays, superb quality, responsiveness from the remote control. Same results with music, and some small low resolution video clips.

Then we took the HD bull (well vampires actually) by the horns and tried to watch the entire Van Helsing movie in high definition thanks to the HDMI connection betwixt TV and the DSM-520. No problems with the image quality at all, a lovely vibrant and crisp picture as you would expect from a fully HD film. The remote control was responsive, allowing us to pause and skip chapters without any noticeable delay. But those two words were to come back and haunt us as the film progressed.

There certainly was some noticeable delay as the DSM-520 seemed to have some difficulty keeping a consistent wireless connection for the duration of the movie, and when it dropped the connection the film stuttered as it reconnected. These kind of issues are not something that the D-Link suffers from in isolation, losing wireless signal is the bane of any such device, but that does not make it any the more acceptable from an entertainment perspective.

It reminded us of those early double layer DVDs where the film would stop halfway while the DVD player searched for the second layer of data and carried on from there. Something you can put up with, and would possibly even get used to, but why should you have to. Considering the money you will have spent on a LCD TV, and the cost of the HD movies themselves, you want the best possible viewing experience and that is not what the DSM-520 provides.

It does, however, provide a very good one.

It also provides a clever integrated server that will stream both audio and video content directly from the Internet by way of services such as Totalvid.com, and this works very well indeed. If you have the luxury of a house where proper Ethernet network wiring is built into the walls, or invest a few quid in a PowerLine Ethernet solution (which uses your electricity cables to conduct network data as well as power) as we have, then you can make the DSM-520 work equally very well by cutting the wireless problems out of the loop. Do this and you have a pretty decent media streamer which benefits from a front mounted USB socket so you can connect a portable USB thumb drive and view images from that as a bonus.

It also looks good, which is not to be underestimated in the design conscious world of the modern living room. The 17-inch black aluminium chassis sports a smoked mirror front panel and looks very slick indeed. Inside the specs also impress, with support for HD playback right up to 1080i as well as both Windows Media Video 9 and MPEG4 video formats. Alongside the HDMI connection, you get SCART, S-Video and composite output. No matter what the age of your telly, the DSM-520 should be able to connect to it. Of course, unless you have a new HD-ready set there seems little point splashing the cash for kit of this calibre.

Verdict

If you want the best possible HD viewing experience and it has to be done via a wireless connection, you won't get it with the DSM-520. However, if you can use a wired network connection everything changes and this becomes a very attractive entertainment device indeed.