D-Link MediaLounge Wireless Media Player

By Gerry Blackwell

October 18, 2004

New Wi-Fi media server from the 'consumer's' vendor offers some attractive and innovative features, but provides a somewhat bumpy ride.

If there's a Wi-Fi equipment vendor today that has not introduced a wireless digital media server product, I'd like to know who it is. Strike one more vendor off the list of no-shows now that D-Link has introduced its powerful but flawed 802.11g DSM-320 MediaLounge Wireless Media Player.

The MediaLounge product streams stored audio and video files to your home entertainment system, plays some Internet radio services (if you pay) and displays digital photos on a TV. The MediaLounge can even stream MPEG2 video files—equivalent to DVD or digital television quality—at up to 8 Megabits per second (Mbps).

It features advanced audio and video connectivity, which owners of modern A/V receivers will appreciate, and it is also the first of these devices I've seen that is designed to be stacked with home electronics gear. It measures 1.5 x 11.25 x 16.75 inches, which fits perfectly with my CD player and other stereo equipment.

The DSM-320 sells online for about $165, which makes it slightly less expensive than some competing products.

Do we really need media servers?
Wireless media servers are a neat idea. I use one all the time for audio. Even good computer audio systems can't do justice to high-bit rate digital music such as the highest-quality variable-bit-rate WMA files I rip using Windows Media Player. You need to hear them on a good hi-fi sound system.

Media server systems take digital audio files out of the noisy, distorting environment of your computer and stream them—as digital data—to the media player connected to your stereo. Your stereo, unlike a computer, was designed to play music and does a much better job of it.

The case for streaming digital video is not quite as good to my mind. Digital video files downloaded from the Web (usually illegally) tend to be highly compressed and/or less than full-screen. The DSM-320, like other video-capable wireless media servers, nevertheless automatically plays them full-screen, with the result that all their shortcomings—pixelization, poor color, less than fluid motion—become very evident, especially on a big-screen TV.

That said, the high-end video playing capability—MPEG2 at 8 Mbps—means theoretically that you could back up your DVDs to a hard drive and then stream them to the MediaLounge for playing. Theoretically.

How well do they measure up?
No question, wireless media players make a ton of sense. The trouble is, most we've looked at so far fall well short of working perfectly, and this late entry from D-Link is, alas, no exception. Besides its convenient, stackable form factor, the MediaLounge player has a couple of other hardware features that set it apart. It includes component video, S-video and optical and co-ax audio out, along with the usual composite audio/video. It even comes with an S-video cable.

The advanced audio and video connections, which improve picture and sound quality when used to connect a cable or satellite set-top box or CD or DVD player to a TV or receiver, may be overkill for most uses to which a Wi-Fi media player will be put. On the other hand, this one can supposedly stream MPEG2 video. It can also stream WAV files (though, disappointingly, not lossless WMA, and MP3s only up to 192 Kbps.) If you have a recent model A/V receiver with these kinds of inputs, it's definitely a nice plus to be able to use them.

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