Gateway Wireless Connected DVD Player
August 22, 2003
Got a collection of high-resolution digital video clips or a few thousand ripped MP3 files? Stop playing them on the computer. This stereo component not only plays DVDs and CDs (both standard and MP3 laden), but streams digital multimedia from your home network with surprising ease and high quality.
Price: $249.98 Direct
Pros: Easy setup, simple to use
Cons: Limited digital media support
There's no lack of products out now that let you take the digital media stored on your PC and play it back on your television or stereo. Usually they are some form of set-top box. Gateway's foray into the world of consumer electronics wouldn't be complete without a tie-in to its computer roots, so that's why the company's sleek, silver and black DVD players are "Connected DVDs." There aren't many that do it in a full-fledged stereo component like this ... actually, there's only one other that we know of: the similarly equipped GoVideo Networked DVD Player for $319.99 MSRP. It sells in varied locations online, but usually for about $50 more. Gateway's DVD players are only available at Gateway.com or Gateway Stores.
Gateway has one model with integrated Ethernet, but the unit reviewed here has a PC Card slot that accepts 802.11b cards. The goal, as stated above, is to get digital video and audio stored on the home network's PC to play in the living room (where, lets face it, PCs have yet to make many inroads).
Let me say immediately: This is perhaps the easiest home stereo component I've ever setup. The instruction manual is incredibly clear and concise, going out of its way to spell out the three methods of video connection (composite, S-Video, and progressive/component) to your TV and the differences. Same with the audio: 2-channel, 5.1 surround, digital coax, or digital optical. It even explains which combinations are optimal for performance. And, of course, the playback quality of DVD discs and audio CDs, both standard and data discs filled with MP3 files, is superb.The obvious difference here is the wireless. Gateway supplied me with a Linksys WPC11 PC Card which, as the directions indicated, I inserted in the slot in the back before turning the system on for the first time (strangely, the documentation doesn't seem to indicate what other cards are supported). It had no problem recognizing the card, and accessing the network setup is done through the same on-screen menu you use to adjust video, audio, and the parental controls. This particular 11b card recognized my home router sitting in the basement without an issue.
The on-screen menu lets you turn on or off DCHP and set a Static IP address if it's off. If you don't use an access point at home, you can still use the Connected DVD, by setting it to Ad Hoc mode (which they call only peer-to-peer in the documentation). If you have to enter the name of the network, you must enter letters using the number pad on the remote control, the same method used on many phones for text messaging.
Every computer on the network that has digital media you want to play through the DVD must be running the Windows-based Gateway D5 Media Server software that comes on CD-ROM with the player. The software, developed by a company called Digital 5 (thus the name), had tabs in the interface for showing the Media Files you have selected, and doing a Media Import of new files. A List Manager tab lets you create playlists to group files, and lets you import playlists saved in M3U or PLS format in other MP3 playback software such as Winamp.
Formats might be the products downfall; the software only allows import (and thus playback on the DVD) of MP3 and WMA audio, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video, and JPEG still pictures -- no QuickTime, RealVideo, or Windows Media format video, which are all arguably more prevalent online. Also, the system doesn't support direct streaming from the Web. That's probably a good thing as it would complicate matters and streaming can be iffy enough on a cable model without adding an extra layer of 802.11b connection after it.
Once the server software is running on your PC (or PCs -- the DVD will seek out the software on any and all computers on the home network) the DVD player can be set to network mode by clicking the Connect button on the remote. The TV screen then brings up a list of all the PCs running the server software. Pick the one you want, select the audio/video/image file you want to hear/view and watch it play.
Playback of audio, even low bit-level MP3s, sounded great, though a lot of that might be due to my stereo receiver. JPEG stills came in bright and clear, though a bit pixilated on the lower resolution television. MPEG movies of low quality suffer the most, as the DVD can only play things back at full screen and the pixilation is pronounced. However, anyone with a huge collection of high resolution MPEG files taken with their digital camcorders can now play back clips in the living room instead of dragging folks to the computer room to see footage of the last family gathering or vacation.