Media streaming devices review

Wireless music and movies, anywhere in the home.
 
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01 .Introduction

Media streaming device

Test results for 11 wireless music streaming devices, priced from $284 to $675

Having spent time converting your music collection to MP3, it seems a little old fashioned to have to play the CDs in a CD player. Instead you can use a media streamer that will send your entire collection from your PC to your sound system, and without the need for messy cables too!

We also included both the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 because, even though they are primarily games consoles, they can do the job quite well with just the addition of a remote control ($49.95) for the PlayStation 3 and wireless attachment ($155) for the Xbox 360. If you're thinking of buying either, this function could be a bit of a bonus, but it'll come at a total price of $1049 and $804 respectively.

It's a good idea, but it's not necessarily a cheap one. We bought 11 wireless music streamers and tested them for:

  • Wireless performance
  • Sound and video quality
  • Ease of use
  • Energy consumption on standby

As well as identifying the best products in the test, we also explain how media streamers work, how you can connect them to your sound system and computer and what to look for when choosing one, including video connections, timeshift feature and remote control.

Read our free Wireless 101 guide for more information on how to set up a wireless network at home.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

  • Apple TV
  • D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320
  • Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player
  • Mediagate MG-350 HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia Player
  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Netgear Digital Entertainment HD EVA8000
  • Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player
  • Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System
  • Sony Playstation 3
  • Terratec Noxon2Audio
  • Ziova Clearstream CS 510
 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test 

What to buy
Brand Price
D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320 $299
Microsoft Xbox 360 $804
Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player $359

The D-Link DSM 320 may not perform quite as well as the others in our what to buy list, but it's very easy to use and good value.

If you've already got a Microsoft Xbox 360 the addition of a Wi-fi attachment for $155 will turn it into a very functional music streaming device. Otherwise it's relatively expensive.

If it wasn't for its just OK standby energy score, the Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player would be equal to the top overall performer. It's easy to use and performed well in our tests.

What about the rest?

All except the Mediagate MG350HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia player are reasonably easy to use. Poor standby power performance reduced some overall scores, particularly for the Apple TV and Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System. There's really no excuse for this in a product that's likely to be left in standby for long periods.

What is streaming?

Media (music and video) streamers are essentially a device that can read the media on your computer's hard drive, convert it to other formats, and transmit it to a sound system elsewhere in the home. If your computer and sound system are in different rooms, there has to be some form of connection and all the devices in this test can link up either via an Ethernet cable, or by wireless if you have a wireless router connected.

All the devices we tested are capable of reading a number of music formats, while some can also read video and still image formats as well (see the Formats table).

Music tends to require less data to be transferred to get a good result.

Video over wireless is not really viable if there's any obstruction to your wireless connection, but all the devices that can read video formats in this test performed well when connected by cable.

ZIOVA troubles

The Ziova Clearstream CS 510 has a good ease of use score, but we couldn't test its wireless performance because it refused to connect to our network. The distributor couldn't track down the problem in time for publication.

After many attempts and upgrading the product's firmware the company did finally solve the wireless problem (the SSID name has to be less than eight characters and the wireless access point set to 802.11g only).

We also discovered it wouldn't deliver sound when connected to a TV using HDMI. This is a known problem and Ziova assures us there's an upgrade coming to resolve it.

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below 

  Features
Brand/model Price ($) Overall Ease of Use (%) Performance (%) Standby power (%) Connect external device [1] Memory Card Reader [2] Clock Alarm
D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320
www.dlink.com.au
299 87 92 79 80 None
Microsoft Xbox 360
www.xbox.com.au
$804 [a] 85 82 97 70 F
Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player www.slimdevices.com 359 85 92 80 60 None
Netgear Digital Entertainment HD EVA8000
www.netgear.com.au
599 80 77 96 50 E, F, P, D
Apple TV
www.apple.com.au
449 80 88 80 30 S
Terratec Noxon2Audio
www.terratec.com
455 80 82 79 70 E, F SD
Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System
www.lakopacific.com.au
675 78 84 40 None SD
Sony Playstation 3
au.playstation.com/ps3
$1049 [b] 77 75 79 80 E, F, P, D CF, SD, MS/Pro
Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player
www.rokulabs.com
359 74 87 53 60 None
Ziova Clearstream CS 510
www.ziova.com
499 71 73 66 [d] 70 E, F
Mediagate MG-350 HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia Player
www.airlinktek.com
284 55 32 95 70 E, O, F, C
 

  Specifications
Brand/model WiFi type Needs display to setup Dimensions (DxWxH, mm) Min System Requirements Vista compatible Mac and Linux compatible Warranty
D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320
www.dlink.com.au
802.11g 300x425x45 1974 98+ 1
Microsoft Xbox 360
www.xbox.com.au
802.11b, 802.11g 310x260x80 4700 XP+, XP Media Center edition, Vista NS 1 [f]
Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player
www.slimdevices.com
802.11g 79x191x89 575 XP+ Yes Yes 2
Netgear Digital Entertainment HD EVA8000
www.netgear.com.au
802.11g 273x430x55 2233 XP+ Yes Mac 2
Apple TV
www.apple.com.au
802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n 197x197x27 1195 XP+ (with iTunes 7) NS Mac 1
Terratec Noxon2Audio www.terratec.com 802.11b, 802.11g 177x165x75 780 XP NS Mac 1
Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System
www.lakopacific.com.au
802.11b, 802.11g 160x280x145 2620 98+ Mac 1
Sony Playstation 3
au.playstation.com/ps3
802.11g 275x325x10 5400 XP+, XP Media Center edition, Vista Yes 1
Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player
www.rokulabs.com
802.11b, 802.11g 58x247x68 668 98/SE/Me/2000/XP NS Yes 1
Ziova Clearstream CS 510 www.ziova.com 802.11b, 802.11g 217x330x52 1995 NS NS Linux 1
Mediagate MG-350 HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia Player www.airlinktek.com 802.11b, 802.11g 155x58x192 972 NS NS Linux (e) 1
 

Table notes

Price paid in December 2007.

Ease of Use (60% of overall) how easy it is to use including instructions and help files, default settings, software and hardware installation, on-board controls and remote control.

Performance (30% of overall) rated the audio quality whilst streaming (via Ethernet and WiFi) and the range of the wireless performance in different circumstances.

Standby Power (10% of overall) based on our measure of the device's standby energy consumption.

Features [1] Connect external device whether additional devices can be connected to the device:

  • E: External HDD
  • O: Optical Disc Drive
  • F: Flash drive or USB key
  • P: iPod
  • D: Digital Camera
  • S: Service port only
  • C: Memory card reader

[2] Memory card reader supports most major flash memory formats:

  • CF: Compact Flash
  • SD: SecureDigital
  • MS/Pro: Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro
  • MMC: MultiMedia Card

Specifications WiFi type (see Wireless performance); Needs display to setup; Dimensions depth, width and height of the product in mm including all protrusions except the power cord; Weight in grams including power pack where separate from main unit; Min System Requirements for Windows; Vista compatible at the time of testing, but drivers may be released later; Mac and Linux compatible if the devices work with Mac and Linux; NS is not specified.

Footnotes

[a] Additional cost $155 (included in final price). Purchased WiFi receiver to make Xbox 360 WiFi capable.
[b] Additional cost $49.95 (included in final price). Purchased PS3 remote to create level playing field for other devices.
[c] The Pinnacle Radio sound quality was judged purely on the wireless playback, as it had no option for wired Ethernet.
[d] The Ziova performance was judged solely on sound quality, as its wireless failed to connect to the server in testing.
[e] Not stated for Mac.
[f] 1yr general claim (3yrs if console fails due to 3 red lights) plus 90 days for accessories.

How we tested

All except the PlayStation 3, which needed a firmware update to recognise some file formats, were tested as they arrived in the box. Each device was installed and configured according to the instructions in the manual.

Sound quality was rated using music files and the same good quality speakers for each product, streamed over Ethernet and wireless connections. The exception was the Pinnacle Radio where we used its built-in speakers as that's how the product is meant to be used.

To avoid interference, the wireless router on the test PC was located about one metre from the streamer and both were placed in the CHOICE radio frequency screening room that shuts out radio waves.

To test wireless range our testers took the products to a country area with little or no radio interference. Each product was set up and started playing, then the source was moved slowly away till we reached a distance of 30 metres. This was repeated with one and then two 40 cm thick stone walls between the devices.

D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320

Price: $299 D-link

Good points

  • Excellent ease of use.
  • Relatively inexpensive.

Bad points

  • Wireless sound quality only OK.
  • Only WEP security for wireless.

Microsoft Xbox 360

Price: $804

Good points

Xbox

  • Very easy to use.
  • Can connect external devices.
  • Can potentially display 1080p resolution video.
  • Excellent wireless performance.

Bad points

  • Relatively expensive for this purpose.
  • External power supply.
  • Requires wireless receiver to make into streaming device. 

Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player

Price: $359

Good Logitechpoints

  • Excellent ease of use.
  • Two year warranty.
  • Has alarm function.

Bad points

  • Software required to run has to be downloaded separately.

Netgear Digital Entertainment HD EVA8000

Price: $599

Good Netgearpoints

  • HDMI connection.
  • Includes HDMI cable.
  • Can connect external devices.
  • Can potentially display 1080p resolution video.
  • Excellent wireless performance.
  • Two year warranty.

Bad points

  • Nothing to mention.

Apple TV

Price: $449

Good Applepoints

  • Very easy to use.
  • 802.11pre-N draft wireless.
  • HDMI connection.
  • Equal best sound performance.

Bad points

  • No HDMI cable included.
  • Requires a display to setup.
  • Software required to run has to be downloaded separately.
  • Lowest standby energy power score.

Terratec Noxon2Audio

Price: $455

Good pointsTerratec

  • Very easy to use.
  • Can connect external devices.
  • Has alarm function.

Bad points

  • Nothing to mention.

Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System

Price: $675

Good Pinnaclepoints

  • Very easy to use.
  • Has alarm function.
  • Equal best sound performance.

Bad points

  • 802.11b wireless.
  • Only WEP security for wireless.
  • No Ethernet connection.
  • Software required to run has to be downloaded separately.

Sony PLAYSTATION 3

Price: $1049

Good PS3points

  • HDMI connection.
  • Can connect external devices.
  • Can potentially display 1080p resolution video.

Bad points

  • Most expensive.
  • No HDMI cable included.
  • Requires a display to setup.
  • Does not come with remote control.

Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player

Price: $359

Good Pinnaclepoints

  • Very easy to use.

Bad points

  • Only 802.11b wireless.
  • Only WEP security for wireless.
  • Software required to run has to be downloaded separately.
  • Lowest score for wireless performance.

Ziova Clearstream CS 510

Price: $499

Good Ziovapoints

  • HDMI connection.
  • Can connect external devices.

Bad points

  • No HDMI cable included.
  • Requires a display to setup.

Mediagate MG-350 HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia Player

Price: $284

Good Mediagatepoints

  • Least expensive in this test.
  • Can connect external devices.
  • Can potentially display 1080p resolution video.
  • Excellent wireless performance.
  • Can connect to computer monitor via DVI.

Bad points

  • Lowest ease of use score.
  • Only WEP security for wireless.
  • External power supply.
  • Requires a display to setup.
  • Borderline sound performance.
  • Difficult to understand help files.
  • No DVI cable supplied.
  Audio Image Video
Brand/model MP3 WAV AAC * WMA AIFF OGG FLAC JPEG BMP PNG TIFF GIF MPEG1 MPEG2 MPEG4 XVID AVI QT WMV
D-Link Media Lounge Entertainment Network DSM 320  
Microsoft Xbox 360 • [2] • [2]
Logitech Squeezebox Wireless Digital Music Player
Netgear Digital Entertainment HD EVA8000  
Apple TV
Terratec Noxon2Audio
Pinnacle Soundbridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System
Sony PlayStation 3  
Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player
Ziova Clearstream CS 510
Mediagate MG-350 HD Wireless High Definition Multimedia Player • [1]  
 

 

Footnotes for Format support table

 * Unprotected Apple format.
[1] Says it does not support Xvid which has GMC option applied.
[2] Only via VOB DVD files.

Connectivity

  • Sound - all devices (except the Pinnacle Radio which is the only product with its own speakers, but no way of connecting to any other music player) can connect to a sound system of some sort. Every device, except the Apple TV and Terratec Noxon2Audio, also comes supplied with RCA cabling. None came with optical cables (TOSLINK), but every device sports an optical output, except the Pinnacle Radio.
  • Video - all of the devices, except for Apple TV, Logitech Squeezebox and the Pinnacle boxes come with at least one composite cable. Only the Netgear HD EVA8000 supplies an HDMI cable. The Netgear HD EVA8000 and Xbox 360 include a component cable, the latter via SCART and the D-Link DSM 320 comes with an S-Video cable.
  • Network connection - using an Ethernet cable to connect to your PC when the wireless network is troublesome is almost an essential backup. Only the D-Link DSM 320, Netgear EVA8000, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 supply an Ethernet cable.

Sound quality

The two equal top performers for sound quality are Apple TV and Pinnacle Radio. The latter is a bit of a surprise because we tested using its own speakers, rather than the reference speakers, because it doesn't have any output connections. These two manage to deliver clear sound at reasonable volume.

The Logitech Squeezebox, Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player and both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games consoles have good scores, but they just aren't quite as good as the top performers. Also, the volume range on the Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player is relatively limited.

The Noxon2Audio and D-Link DSM 320 cut the upper range of the music off when streaming it to the speakers, so the vocals are muted and the instruments aren't sharp, but they still manage OK sound quality scores overall. The Noxon2Audio is much better when connected via cable. All except the Mediagate MG350HD manage acceptable scores as well.

In fact, the Mediagate MG350HD is the poorest performer, sounding 'muddy' when connected via cable, an effect even more apparent when connected via wireless.

Video over wireless

There's a big difference between being able to do something and doing it well.

In this test the Apple TV, D-Link DSM 320, Logitech Squeezebox, Mediagate, Xbox 360, Netgear EVA8000 and PlayStation 3 are capable of streaming video formats.

Over a cable this works quite well because the transfer speed can keep up with the large files required for video. Unfortunately, wireless data rates are much lower and even though all except the D-Link DSM 320 can manage acceptably when there's no obstruction between the source and the streamer, any reduction in data flow results in pixelation or jittery images and sound. It looks like cable connections are going to be necessary for a while yet.

Ease of use

The easiest to use are the D-Link DSM 320 and the Logitech Squeezebox. These are simple to setup, have well designed remote controls, and worked well straight out of the box.

Most of the others also managed good or very good scores, but the PlayStation 3 help files could be better and the Netgear EVA8000 remote was poor due to its small buttons and difficult to see text in normal light. The remotes for the Noxon2Audio, Ziova Clearstream CS 510 and Mediagate MG350HD are better, but some of the labels and button groupings are unintuitive or inadequate.

The Mediagate MG350HD scored poorly for overall usability with a difficult to understand manual, cumbersome menu navigation, and an unintuitive interface when changing configuration details.

Only three of the devices have a hard drive incorporated - the Apple TV (40GB), Xbox 360 (20GB) and PlayStation 3 (60GB). The Mediagate MG350HD supports an optional hard drive.

Wireless performance

Wireless communication relies on standards to ensure products from different manufacturers can communicate with each other. Unfortunately, these have some of the least sexy names in all of technology - beginning with the numbers '802.11' and ending with 'b', 'g' or 'n'.

The letter indicates which version of the standard the product conforms to: 

'b' is the earliest for the products in this test and the slowest;

'g' is the most common and is usually faster and more robust than 'b';
and although 'n' is the latest version it has yet to be finalised, so products using this may not conform with future versions of 'n' without some form of upgrade.

The good news is that 'g' or 'n' devices are backwards compatible, so they'll work with a 'b' device, albeit at 'b' speeds.

In testing we found all the products handle streaming music at up to 30 metres if there's clear line of sight. Once we introduced a 40 cm thick wall, all except the Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player could penetrate.

Adding another 40 cm thick wall, and only the Mediagate MG-350 HD, Netgear EVA8000 and Xbox 360 were still able to stream the music from the router.

Keeping in mind these are thick 40 cm stone walls in our tests, we're confident these devices will cope pretty well with normal house construction even at some distance. However, if you're looking for a streamer that can cope with difficult circumstances the Mediagate MG-350 HD, Netgear EVA8000 or Xbox 360 would be a good choice.

Security

Cable connections don't really have security issues, but wireless has the potential for others to piggyback on your network.

There are two common forms of security which are included with wireless routers:

  • Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is common, but unfortunately pretty easily circumvented (it'll probably help keep out someone who isn't very tech-savvy, but don't rely on it)
  • Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) which is a stronger means of protecting your system and the better choice if you have the option.

In this test the D-Link DSM 320, Mediagate MG350HD, Pinnacle Soundbridge Network Music Player and Pinnacle Radio were limited to WEP, the other devices supported both.

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