05.Connectivity and sound quality
- 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.
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.