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D-Link DSM-320 review.

  • What is it and what's it do?
  • What's in the box?
  • What are the System Requirements?
  • How does it work and is it hard to use?
  • How does it hook up?
  • Does it have any problems?
  • How to workaround DivX problems
  • Overall impression
  • Additional Resources

  • What is it and what's it do?

    Unlike many other media players that can only play music files, the DSM-320 can play movies, pictures and music files on your TV and/or Stereo directly from where they're stored on your networked PCs.

    What's in the box?

    (From the manual) -

  • Printed Quick Installation Guide
  • Installation CD (Contains D-Link Media Server Software, Quick Installation Guide, and Manual)
  • Antenna
  • Ethernet (CAT5-UTP/Straight-Through) Cable
  • Standard Composite RCA Audio/Video Cable S-Video Cable
  • Remote Control with Batteries

  • System Requirements

    (From the manual) -

  • Television with composite, S-Video, or component video inputs and an audio device with composite, coaxial digital or optical digital audio inputs.
  • Windows XP/2000/Me/98SE. (The Media Server software is not compatible with anything other than Windows)
  • Minimum to run the Media Server software: PC with 500 MHz processor, 128 MB RAM and 20 MB of hard disk space.
  • A wireless or Ethernet network.
  • CD-ROM drive

  • How does it work and is it hard to use?

    It connects to a Computer Network either by a standard Cat5 patch lead or 802.11B (11mbs) or 802.11G (54mbs) Wireless, then it's plugged into your Home Entertainment system and controlled with its own remote control. Configuration wise, probably the hardest part is setting up the Network settings. I found this really straight forward myself, but those with limited networking experience might be reaching for the manual at this point, particularly if connecting wirelessly and setting up the wireless security parameters (64 or 128bit WEP).
    Then there's the Media Server software that needs to be installed on each PC with files on it that you want to be able to play. After installation, just specify which folders you want the DSM-320 to have access to and Bob's your Uncle.
    Once that's done, the DSM-320 remote control provides a variety of ways to look for the file you want to play, including browsing all of that particular file type (Music, Video or picture), browsing by directory (ie go straight to a particular folder on a particular PC) or searching by file type, genre, author or title.

    D-Link have a fantastic Interactive demo which takes you through using the features and its capabilities. (Macromedia Flash required, and click the "Menu" button at the bottom left to start the demo).

    How does it hook up?

    A picture tells a thousand words -

    To connect to my home Entertainment system I used an RCA lead from Composite Video connector to the Video AV in on my TV, and connected the Composite Audio outputs straight to my stereo's auxiliary in. So now DSM-320 comes up on my TV's AV1 channel and the sound comes out through the stereo on the auxiliary channel.
    Other people might use the same plugs directly to a spare channel on an amplifier and there's a couple of alternatives there to suit other connections including coax, S-Video and component connectors.
    To connect to my PC Network I used the Wireless link to connect to a Netgear WGT624 Wireless Router (In B/G mode) with 128bit WEP encryption. It's about 10 metres away through a couple of walls and maintains a steady signal.

    Does it have any problems?

    When I first tested the DSM-320 it was fairly fussy to use but it has since had quite a few software upgrades and is now much more difficult to find fault with.

    Playing Online Media: Not so much a fault but an interesting observation I thought was worth mentioning.
    The DSM-320 comes with the ability to play online media from Live365.com which is subscription based and comes with a 30 day trial. However, there's also a way to stream radio stations free from Shoutcast.
    Go to Shoutcast and you'll find hundreds of Internet Radio Stations.
    When you find one you like, Right Click on the "Tune In" button and select "Save Target As"
    Rename it to something you'll recognise (eg "Eighties_Radio") and save it to a shared folder.
    Now it'll come up in the Playlist Option under Music via the DSM-320.
    (Thanks to whoever originally discovered this technique and posted it in the forums. It works a treat!)

    Playing movies: The DSM-320 comes with the following Video Formats officially supported (From the manual):

  • MPEG-1 (up to 8Mbps)
  • MPEG-2 (up to 8Mbps)
  • MPEG-4 (ASP. - Advanced Simple Profile)
  • AVI or QT (MPEG4 layer only)
  • XVID (with MP3 and PCM)

    Those with some experience with digital video formats will notice right away that DivX isn't listed as supported, however, I'm told most will play fine anyway. Although, most DivX encoded AVIs that I've seen don't have this MPEG4 layer which I think refers to the Audio track part of it, and there are other difficulties with the actual video encoding. Any attempt to play them on the DSM-320 results in an "Unsupported File Format" error message and the only way around it is to re-encode the AVI to a supported format. After a couple of days of complete hell embarking on the steepest learning curve I've struck for years, I finally did find a solution that worked for me by re-encoding the movie in XVID format with the audio in MP3. It ends up about 20% larger in size on your hard disk, but at least it works.
    You'll need the following tools before you start:
    VirtualDub (The program that actually re-encodes the movie)
    Gordian.Knot.Codec.Pack (The video codecs that VirtualDub needs to re-encode the video)
    Lame MP3 Codec (The Audio codec VirtualDub needs to re-encode the audio)

    Update: I've since learned that the K-Lite codec pack may be a better codec pack alternative than these above. It's easier to install and seems to have much better codec support. However, when installing it be sure to go through the options carefully and tick all of the "encoding" boxes as a lot of these are unticked by default and you'll need them to re-encode movies. Also, under Audio > AC3 (AC3 Filter) there's a box that says "Boost AC3 volume". That one's worth ticking as well.

    (Back to the Gordian.Knot installation) First up, if you're using XP, set a System Restore point (Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore). This may not be completely necessary, but is an advisable precaution in case you need to back track. I installed these on two XP PCs without any hassles but I don't want to cop an earbashing from anyone in case there's spyware or something hiding amongst this lot that I didn't know about...

  • Install Gordian.Knot.Codec.Pac by double clicking the installer you downloaded

  • When prompted to Select Components to Install, deselect DivX Pro 5.1.1 Adware. (It causes popups and isn't needed for this job anyway)
  • After that follow your nose. There's a bunch of installers all bound together in one package so you'll get lots of prompts.
  • Now, install the Lame codec:
  • Right click on the downloaded zip file and select unzip to.
  • Open the unzipped folder.
  • Right Click and select Install on LameACM.inf.
  • Now for VirtualDub.
  • It doesn't have an installer so just Right Click and unzip it to your C Drive or anywhere else you'd prefer to keep it.
  • Open the Unzipped folder, Right Click and hold the button on the VirtualDub.exe file and drag it to your desktop and create a shortcut.
  • Double Click it to start VirtualDub.
  • Select File > Open Video File and browse to the movie you want to re-encode.
  • Select the Video Tab and choose Fast Recompress.
  • Select the Video Tab again and select Compression.
  • Scroll down and select the XviD MPEG-4 codec and click ok.
  • Now select the Audio Tab and choose Full Processing mode.
  • Select Audio again and choose Compression.
  • Click on Lame MP3 and tick the "Show all formats" box.
  • Click on "48000 Hz, 256 kbps CBR, Stereo 32KB/s" and click ok.
  • Finally, click File and "Save as AVI " and choose a place to save the new file.
    (You can save it in the same folder but just give it a slightly different name. eg Add a 1 or the word "NEW" to the existing file name.)
  • Ok, now it'll take between 45 mins to a couple of hours depending on the size of the movie and the grunt of your PC, and it'll hog the processor during this time so it's a good idea to have this running on a PC that you won't be needing for a while.

    Playing DVDs: Unfortunately the DSM-320 can't play a DVD from a shared DVD Drive. No problems with the drive as such (it'll play AVIs on a CD or DVD), but the DVD format isn't supported. The workaround is to "rip" the DVD to XVID format with MP3 Audio as above.
    Well, the only DVD I have in the house is "Finding Nemo" (why buy when you can rent) and apparently there's something different about this one that causes grief for people trying to rip it so I haven't given it a go at this stage. When I do get around to it, one DVD Ripper I'll probably try first is SimpleDivX but there's heaps of them out there to choose from.

    Be aware that most media you might rip would have some sort of copyright protection so be careful you don't save these files to shared folders that you have available for File Sharing Applications like Kazaa, Bittorrent, WinMX etc. I know of people who have received warnings from their ISPs for sharing copyright protected material in this manner so it's only a matter of time before this sort of thing goes a lot further.

    Changing a shared folder's contents: Fairly regularly I'd imagine most people would be adding to their digital media collection and the contents of a shared folder will change. The DSM-320 can't deal with this automatically so you need to "refresh" the folder in the Media Server software.
    To do this, open the Media Server application and select the "Shared Folder" tab.
    Right Click on the folder that has changed material and select "Rescan a Shared Folder"
    Click Ok down the bottom and it's away.

    Wireless: Possibly one of the most strongly criticised areas of the DSM-320 is its wireless performance. There is a technique mentioned in the unofficial forums which involves changing a wire inside the DSM-320 and I can verify that this does improve things immensly. However, it most definitely voids warranty so I do NOT recommend it. It's also important to bear in mind that because this technique works we know that D-Link have an error in their software which they'll eventually sort out and all the people who have made this change will have to change back eventually anyway.
    Wireless Security options only include 64 & 128bit WEP at this stage, and there's also Mac address control available on most Access Points and Routers. Hopefully we'll see WPA added in a future firmware release.

  • Overall impression.

    When I originally reviewed the DSM-320 it was usable but fairly buggy but there's been quite a few firmware and media server software updates since then and now it's getting very hard to pick faults with it. This one's a keeper for me. It still could use better codec support so you're less likely to come across an unsupported format and have to re-encode, but all in all it's pretty darn good and certainly a huge step towards the future of home entertainment.
    As I write this I see new devices starting to appear that include DVD players as well and the ability to add storage (Hard Drives), but the DSM-320 certainly has a price advantage for what it does at this stage.
    In the future I can see CDs that will be able to play themselves while still in their cases by wirelessly connecting to a stereo systems (maybe with the aid of devices like the DSM-320), wireless speaker systems, recording systems using Hard Drives instead of tapes or DVDs, local community radio & TV stations broadcasting from shops to surrounding homes and businesses, and maybe even local or Internet Video shops where you can stream a movie into your Home Entertainment System from an antenna on your roof or from the Internet. The mind boggles...

    Additional Resources

    D-Link DSM-320 product page
    DSM-320 Forum (non-D-Link)
    DSM-320 Discussion at DSLReports
    Doom9. More info on Digital media encoding than you'll ever use.
    VideoHelp. The site with brilliant tutorials that I would have been lost without.