Electronic Design

Distributed Media System Courtesy Of D-Link

D-Link is a well known provider of wired and wireless networking products, so it is not much of a surprise to find that within this collection are a range of Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices and media players.

I took a look at a pair of products from D-Link. These included the DNS-321 (Fig. 1). Network Storage Enclosure and the DSM-750 (Fig. 2) Wireless HD Media Center Extender. I equipped the DNS-321 with a pair of new 1.5 Tbyte Barracuda SATA drives. The DSM-750 can operate in standalone mode or a Windows Media Center PC like the AMD Home Theatre platform I checked out recently (read “Parts Add Up To Home Theater PC”). I started by setting up the DNS-321. Installing the pair of Seagate Barracuda drives, DNS-321 (Fig. 3), was a trivial exercise. The front panel of the DNS-321 slides up and the drives slide in. No cables to contend with. Drop the front panel back into place and it is just a matter of plugging in the power brick and Ethernet cable.

Setup is done using a Web browser to access the Linux-based Web server on the DNS-321. The wizard setup is a cinch. The only major decision is whether to use RAID 1, striping; or setup the system as a pair of drives. Switching is possible but you lose data on the drives.

The DNS-321 exposes some (but not all) of the features a Linux-based NAS could provide. Still, they are likely the ones you want including user and group quota support. The underlying Samba server delivers Windows share support. The unit can also provide FTP, DLNA and iTunes support. The Windows suport or DLNA support is typically the way to gain access to multimedia files from another source such as the DSM-750 or a Windows or Linux PC. These services can be setup to use any directory on the hard drive.

One simple, yet handy feature was the email alert support. I just provided an e-mail address, SMTP server information, and the alerts to be notified about (such as volume full or hard drive failure to get the system running) and received accurate data in a sufficiently timely fashion.

I did not take advantage of the dynamic DNS (DDNS) support although this is just as easy to setup. I prefer to run the system with a fixed IP address. Likewise, I did not use the DHCP server support since I already have a redundant set running my local network.

The Barracuda SATA II hard drives and 1-Gbit Ethernet did well while streaming a number of multimedia files simultaneously to different devices.

Setting up the DSM-750
The DSM-750 required a bit more setup, but is a lot more interesting to use. Setup via the 1-Gbit Ethernet connection or with the 802.11n antennas installed for wireless support, then get to tinkering.

The first step is to connect the DSM-750 to your TV. An HDTV connection is preferred. It is also the easiest since an HDMI connection will be the cabling of choice. Only one cable is required, whereas separate audio and video cables are used for composite video, S-video, or component video. The result is getting the DSM-750’s user interface on-screen.

The next step is to get the batteries into the IR remote. This is used to walk through the setup menus.

The DSM-750 also has a USB connection on the front panel. It is primarily designed for streaming audio or presenting slide shows from a USB flash drive, though large flash drives could handle video files as well.

Network setup is a snap if a DHCP address is used, but a fixed IP address is not hard given the numeric keypad on the IR remote. Linking the unit to a Windows Media PC is equally simple since it is just a matter of exchanging a few digits from a randomly generated key.

Actually the more challenging step was downloading Windows Media Player 11 and setting up media sharing. The D-Link documentation actually covers this as well, making it trivial for neophytes that can read or at least those that crack the ebook.

The DSM-750 uses a linear style menu common on DVRs and other consumer oriented multimedia devices designed to work with IR remotes. Since the menu has a simple horizontal and vertical taxonomy, all you need to navigate are the Arrow keys and the Enter key.

The biggest challenge is the wide range of selections available via the menus. This includes the ability to select and view/play images, audio files and video files. The latter format support includes MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, AVI , XVID, WMV9, DVR-MS, MVK, and H.264.

The big feature when linked to a Windows Media Center PC with a TV adapter is the ability to setup DVR-style recordings. The PC needs to be running to record or playback.

The system can access a range of Internet-based audio services. In theory, Internet-based video could be streamed as well but right now it is limited to things like Flickr.

The DSM-750 can be powered down when not in use and conserves power if it is not playing any files. The system is quiet even though it has a small cooling fan on-board.

Functionally the system worked well for me. I have a number of DLNA and Samba servers on my network whose content was readily accessible.

What is lacking from this class of products is the ability to handle DVR-style programming from different sources such as Tivo’s or MythTV. Still, most homes at this point will have only one PC for media recording chores so matching it with the DSM-750 makes a lot of sense. Likewise, its ability to deliver HD quality content over a wireless link is critical to its success. Watching a quality video source over an 802.11n link was a joy. Just keep in mind that your access point better be a compatible 802.11n unit as well.



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