July 6, 2005 09:36 PM PST
I've been using the D-Link DSM-320 Network Media Player
for a few months now and am quite happy with it. It's basically a box the size of a dvd player that exclusively plays content from a PC, including images, music and video (yes, Jimmy; including divx).
This player retails for under $150, and is basically an embedded Linux device with an ethernet port, a Wi-Fi card, IR sensor and TV out (composite, s-video, component) and optical/coax surround sound audio out. It does not contain a hard drive or DVD/CD player - all media access is via the network.
I already had a DVD player that will play MP3/JPG discs. Also, my TiVo will play music and image slideshows from the network (at one point they charged extra for this, but some time ago they started giving it away for free). So basically, I was looking for a way to watch video media on the TV without that hassle of a full PC in the living room (I have gone through that twice, and it's the subject of another post).
My testing has been primarily Divx (v3,4,5) and Xvid files from random sources. I have had problems with only one file that was questionably encoded, the rest have played fine. Those of you who are familiar know that a 450mhz processor isn't really powerful enough to play MPEG-4 video at 640 pixel widths. This device does fine - I believe they're using a hardware decoder chip.
The interesting thing for me is how this changes the TV experience. Similar to TiVo - I have a set of things that are "on tv" that aren't actually live. It's pretty cool to grab video files oneline like the Red vs. Blue
series, and sit down and watch them at the TV. It doesn't sound like much, but you start to realize how powerful a publishing platform the Internet can be for what we used to think of as network controlled TV.
There are sites that you can actually subscribe to an RSS feed for individual shows, and people digitize them in HDTV, and encode to Divx/Xvid. Some RSS readers can automatically download these episodes when the notification comes in via Bittorrent P2P protocols. Unfortunately many of these "TV Torrent" sites have been shut down, but I think the door has been opened to a legal version of this type of service. It's like TiVo, except you can record shows that were on over any period of time, not only those that are shown live. I'd love to see the networks implement this type of system, perhaps supported by a DRM that allows download but not cutting commercials or something.
Another option is to have your loud computer with a tuner record the shows to disk, and use the D-Link as a front-end. This would give you TiVo like functionality without the loud PC in the living room. The D-Link is quieter than TiVo.
If you have Divx content you'd like to watch on TV, I'd recommend the D-Link media player. It supports a ton of formats and really opens your eyes to the power of Internet/TV integration. The only competition I see for this player is from the Xbox360, if it is able to play open (non-DRM) media formats.