DivX Connected: streaming tech that works

You name it - in terms of media streamers, we've tried it. In fact, we seem to have been talking up media streaming for longer than we want to remember.

The notion of taking media from your PC and transferring it across to the family-friendly television over Wi-Fi still has huge appeal, yet the level of participation remains poor. Enter DivX Connected, a branded streaming tech that manufacturers can simply drop into their hardware.

Not so dodgy DivX

DMA (Digital Media Adapter) sales are low. And there's no real evidence to suggest that the Xbox 360 is used to its full Media Center Extender capacity in a significant number of homes. With its fans whirring non-stop, it's far too noisy.

Yet, for our money, using a DMA is the path to follow. Media Center PCs still don't cut the mustard, while a solution like the Xbox simply doesn't support the breath of formats you've probably got on your PC - unless you use on-the-fly re-encoding software.

So can DivX really make a go of it in this market? After a good few days using the first shelf-bound product, the £130 D-Link DSM-330 HD Media Player, the answer looks to be a resounding "yes".

Excellent format support

DivX is a name that's well-known among those who often download content from the internet. Surely we can't delude ourselves that most content watched through these devices is legal? As a technology provider, DivX will surely ensure attention is directed towards boxes such as the DSM-330, not least because of the exemplary support for the kind of formats that go hand in hand with torrents.

The question over format support has always been whether DivX and XviD are supported - and that's obviously not a problem here.

What is impressive about the DivX tech is not so much what it can do - most of the functionality has been seen elsewhere - but the way it does it.

The wireless menu navigation doesn't match a wired experience, but it stays refreshingly quick. Not something you can say of most of the face-twistingly unpleasant DMAs we've looked at previously. It's not that they're short on function; they're chronically short on usability - absolutely crucial for a living room device.

It's an open platform

As well as enabling you to stream music, photos and video, DivX has given Connected some more interesting titbits for us to talk about. Firstly, you're able to stream content directly from the internet. This currently works with DivX's Stage 6 video upload site but other applets will be added soon. Some buffering is to be expected, but the experience works just like a video on your network - you can forward, rewind and pause the content whenever you want to.

And, since the platform is open, anyone can design plug-ins for DivX Connected using its open source SDK. It uses the Gecko rendering engine; the framework behind Firefox.

Yet DivX Connected isn't without its flaws. It needs server software to be operational on a PC unlike, say, the Buffalo LinkTheater that can pull it from a network drive. That's a serious problem in our book - if your media is on the network anyway, why should you have to switch on a PC to share it?

Getting it going

So what's it like to set up? Again, surprisingly comprehensive. While setting up this box, a warning appeared on the screen, telling us the network channel of our wireless network was busy. It advised us to change it. A nice touch.

The interface is clear and crisp and pulls down images for your media from the net. If there is no image (say, for example, for some illegitimate content) a snipped frame from the footage will be displayed instead.

One of the nattier features is the ability to resume from the point last played, as if it were a DVD. The rewind and pause functions work. That's not to say they're exceptional, but if you'd used some of the DMAs on the market, you'd be amazed at how often such basics don't work properly.

Otherwise, the setup goes through a simple diagnostic process depending on the way it's connected to your TV (HDMI, SCART, S-Video, Composite and component are all possibilities) and depending on whether you want it on the wired or wireless network. Like the Apple TV, 720p HD is catered for, but unlike the Apple TV there is no integrated hard drive or iTunes/AAC support.

But that isn't what the DSM-330 is designed for. Instead, what you have here is a box that contrasts with every other example of the genre. And, what's more, it keeps improving - since we set it up, there have been two firmware updates. The price isn't too shabby either.

Key features:

720p HD support
HDMI, SCART, Composite, S-Video and Component video outputs
RCA, S/PDIF, Optical audio outputs
Video Formats: DivX, XviD with MP3 or PCM, WMV9 (transcoded on PC)
Audio Formats: MP3 (Up to 360 kbps), WMA (transcoded on PC)
Supported Image Formats: JPEG, JPEG 2000, BMP
802.11g Wi-Fi or Wired Ethernet connection


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.