While media streamers are certainly becoming more versatile at the top-end, with support for DRM-encoded content, web access and a wealth of media-management features, there’s clearly still a market for a basic, no-frills device such as the Dane-Elec SO G-Stream.
In a similar manner to the excellent Western Digital WDTV, it offers direct access to media stored on external drives or USB devices with a couple of well-received extras thrown into the mix.
The biggest advantage here is network support, with a choice of 10/100 Ethernet or 802.11g wireless and there’s a 3-in-1 memory card reader for instant access to photos and other media. All of this is wrapped in a sleek, metallic casing that certainly looks the part and as well as housing HDMI, optical and composite connections offers USB ports front and back. There’s very little to criticise about the external approach to the device and with a similar price point to the WDTV, we were expecting Dane-Elec to give it a run for its money.
Things progress quite nicely when everything is hooked-up and set-up is straightforward, involving typical audio and visual configuration and entering details for a wired or wireless network. "Ease of use" gets another plug here as the G-Stream utilises Windows’ shared folders for accessing content and while this isn’t always as tidy as a dedicated software-server application, is generally quite effective.
It soon became apparent, however, that part of the reason why the G-Stream is so easy to set-up and use is that it’s very, very basic. Everything from the menu structure to media control and support is "bare-bones" and while this doesn’t always affect functionality, we did have some notable issues with operation.
Media files are accessed by selecting a USB device, card reader or network on the main interface, at which point you’re shown a rather small, six-row scrollable window through which to browse and open files. Scrolling around is rather sluggish though, particularly in the case of video files since they attempt to load in a preview window before playing full-screen, and selecting from a large collection of files via a network or local storage can be a long and drawn-out affair. Format support is acceptable without offering anything outstanding, but media control is generally very poor, with very little here beyond simple file playback.
One area where the G-Stream is very capable is performance and despite the fact that it only offers 802.11g wireless it handles HD content fairly well up to the maximum 1080i. This wasn’t enough to save the device though and we ended up feeling a bit let down by the G-Stream experience, which offered so much promise from the box and could have been a genuine contender in this market had a little more care been taken with the interface and media control. As it is this is far too basic and not nearly as nice to use as it should be and while it may suit beginners, there are better options available elsewhere.
Dane-Elec’s first foray into the media streamer market is off to a good start with a tidy design and decent performance, but lets itself down in key areas including format support, a poor interface and media control. It may suit beginners who would use it infrequently to share a small collection of files but anyone series about accessing a media collection on the big screen will find it lacking in too many key areas.