D-Link MediaLounge Wireless Media Player with DVD

By Gerry Blackwell

November 23, 2005

This hardware, whether wired or wireless, provides superior playback of your network media, but you might have trouble getting around the interface issues.

D-Link’s MediaLounge Wireless Media Player with DVD takes Wi-Fi into long overdue territory. Unlike most wireless media players, the new MediaLounge is as much consumer electronics device as networking peripheral.

In fact, the DSM-320RD, a 802.11g device, can function quite nicely without a network. Its disc player lets you play DVD, SVCD,  CD-RW, MP3, VCD, CD-R, audio CD and DVD±RW discs, and the two memory card slots let you show digital photos stored on SD (Secure Digital), MMC (MultiMedia Card), Compact Flash (Type I and II) and Memory Stick cards.

Also unlike some other products in this category – including the new SqueezeBox from Slim Devices and D-Link’s own MediaLounge Wireless Music Player DSM-120 – this MediaLounge can send any kind of digital media over a Wi-Fi network: music, video and images stored on network-connected PCs, plus Internet radio.

At $285 and much less in some places, the price seems about right. There is much to like about the product, including generally great performance. But there is also much that is annoying.

DSM-320RD.jpg

Software set-up was problem free, though decidedly not a breeze. The D-Link server program installed without incident on my Windows XP PC. To set up the server, you must choose folders on your hard drive where MediaLounge can find your multimedia files. This is a simple enough procedure, but it takes the D-Link device longer to add files and folders to its database than similar products I’ve tested. It took several minutes, for example, to add about 35 GB of high-bit rate WMA (Windows Media Audio) files. Thankfully typically only do this once.

One of the good things about the MediaLounge is that it provides a full complement of digital and analog outputs for audio and video – including composite, S-Video and component connectors for video, and composite and optical and coaxial digital for audio. It also has an Ethernet port as well as the wireless antenna, plus a USB port.  

After you’ve set up the software on each PC on your network, connected the DSM-320RD to your entertainment systems and turned it on, the device automatically launches a setup wizard  on your TV screen to connect it to your network. This is where things can get really annoying.

The wizard requires you to make menu selections and, in some cases, input text using the MediaLounge terrible remote control. It’s too small and crams in way too many keys, which of course are too small for any but the slenderest ET-like fingers. I found it difficult not to hit multiple buttons with each press.

To make matters worse, the buttons, especially the direction keys, are super sensitive. Pressed once and the cursor often jumped two positions. If it’s a menu or dialog with only two options, this means the cursor comes back to the first one so that it appears as if the remote is not working at all. This caused problems in the network connection process.

The DSM-320RD automatically scans for a network. When it finds one, it puts it in a list in which the default first entry is <Manually Enter SSID>. This is to accommodate situations where the scan for whatever reason doesn’t find your network. The device found my network alright, but when I tried to move the selection bar from the manually-enter-SSID option to the SSID for my network, it invariably jumped down to the next set of options, Back or Next. No matter how lightly I pressed, no matter how many times I tried.

In the end I had to enter my router's SSID manually using the onscreen keyboard, a tedious process at the best of times, made more tedious by the stuttering direction key.

For users of Windows XP with Service Pack 2, there is an alternative – which I would have known if I'd thought to flip a few pages ahead in the Quick Installation Guide and noticed it. (Note to self: always read manual completely before beginning installation.) You can use Windows Connect Now (WCN) on your PC to configure the wireless settings for the MediaLounge, copy them to a USB thumb drive on your PC, plug the thumb drive into the MediaLounge and download the configuration settings.

One of the good things about the way the MediaLounge server handles music files is that it was able to read all the tags I edited using another media server program. So the changes I made to artist names, for example – to standardize the form of the name for all albums -  survived in the MediaLounge database.

The bad thing is that, for reasons still not clear to me and unexplainable by D-Link, the MediaLounge server organized all the tracks under Artist and Album in alphabetical order by track name rather than by album and then track number. I could find no mention of this problem at the D-Link tech support site and the company’s tech support line could only suggest I create play lists to get around the problem.

There is a Folders option that lets you go directly to the folders created during ripping. It’s not the easiest way to find things, but at least the tracks appear in the correct order.

For pop music fans who like to create play lists with tracks from multiple albums, this is not such a big problem. But if you a) listen to classical music, where it’s imperative to listen to tracks in the order they were recorded, or b) you’re just old fashioned and want to listen to an album the way the artist or producer intended, this is a very big problem.

It is now possible to use Windows Media Connect, a new component in Windows XP with Service Pack 2, instead of the MediaLounge server. It’s dubious claim to superiority is that it lets you play DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected music files. It only made my problem worse. As well as arranging tracks in alpha order under Album and Artist, it also ignored my edited tags so that now under Artist, I have music by Bach, Bach, J.S., Bach, JS and Johann Sebastian Bach.  

The good news: In my tests, music sounded great streamed through the DSM-320RD – especially when I switched from using composite audio connectors to an optical digital cable so that the data stream was being decoded by the receiver’s DAC (digital analog converter) instead of the inferior MediaLounge DAC.

The video functionality was almost as impressive. MediaLounge can play common file types such as MPEG 1, MPEG 2, MPEG 4, Xvid and AVI. Not mentioned in the specs is the fact that it can also play raw .VOB files created when you rip a DVD. The high bit rate video from .VOB looks nearly DVD quality streamed over the DSM-320RD, but I did get occasional stutters during playback, mostly noticeable in the audio, but sometimes in video.

Viewing streamed digital images is a little frustrating. MediaLounge appears to crop pictures to fit the 4:3 frame and doesn’t compensate for TV over scanning. Result: you don’t see the whole picture. But pictures did look good, especially when I connected to the TV using an S-Video cable.

The radio functionality is better than in many media players. D-Link makes it possible to listen to online streaming audio from Napster, Rhapsody, Live365.com and AOLRadio. Live365 is free but requires you to register at the Web site and the MediaLoung couldn’t connect to some stations. Rhapsody and Napster offer 30-day free trials bundled with the media player, which is more than they offer visitors to their sites. But again, you have to go to their Web sites to sign up. AOL offers a free trial that ends December 31, 2005.

High bit rate Internet radio streamed through the MediaLounge will probably sound better than it does on your PC speakers, but it is not, as some of these purveyors claim, CD quality.

Bottom line: Good news and bad with this unit. Performance and breadth of functionality are good, the inferior interface and server software are the bad. If you can overlook that, you'll enjoy the high quality playback to he had with this hardware.



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