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 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.
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.