GoVideo, fresh from the ashes of the Sonicblue bankruptcy, has finally delivered the D2730, the networked DVD player that caused a stir at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January. In addition to performing all the standard functions of a DVD player, the D2730 (listed at $299) is designed to access your PC-based digital photos, music, and video via your home network. This DVD player-cum-digital-media client packs impressive features, but if they interest you, you should also consider similar $249 offerings from Gateway and Oritron.
The D2730's nondescript appearance belies the host of features under the hood. The brushed-steel face is punctuated by the seven standard disc-transport buttons, a five-way rocker switch for menu navigation, and even a 1/4-inch headphone jack with a dedicated volume control. The fairly large front display glows with the same blue light that illuminates the circumference of the rocker pad.
The remote's poor layout makes menu and media navigation difficult. A rarely seen telephone-style number keypad dominates the body, while disc and file controls are jammed toward the top. Additional buttons hide under a flip-down door.
A CD-ROM provides a small media-server program; you must install and configure it on whichever computers will host the photos, the music, and the videos. Sorry, Mac fans--the D2730 currently supports only Windows. The application scours either your entire hard drive or user-specified directories for compatible media. After initial setup, it retreats to the system tray and lives there unobtrusively. One minor annoyance is that all the files you want to share must reside on internal hard drives; the software can't access any external, optical, or flash drives.
Your PC-based media are accessible via the remote's Network button. Because the interface replicates a PC's file and folder listings, navigating photos, videos, and music will be clean and intuitive for anyone familiar with Windows file trees.
The D2730's killer feature is the built-in PCMCIA slot. When it's hosting the included Ethernet network card, it enables the player to browse much of the digital media on properly configured Windows PCs within your home network. Wireless network access requires an 802.11b network card. Gateway's player, by comparison, is available in separate Ethernet and wireless-ready versions.
Before you envision a digital Valhalla where you can take all your Kazaa-acquired favorites to the big screen, take note: The D2730 supports a limited number of file formats. While MP3, WMA, and JPEG-photo compatibility will satisfy most music and photography fans, film buffs will have to make do with MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 playback. Such mainstream standards as QuickTime, AVI, Real, ASF, and WMV are excluded. The D2730 does have upgradable firmware, however, and GoVideo tells us to expect DivX and MPEG-4 support in the near future.
As a regular DVD player, the D2730 includes slightly better-than-average connectivity options. In addition to composite-video and S-Video connections, the unit features a single set of component-video jacks, which can be switched between interlaced and progressive-scan output at the touch of a button on the remote. Analog stereo, coaxial and optical digital, and dedicated 5.1-channel analog outputs provide maximum connectivity.
The player had no trouble handling a variety of DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, VCDs, CD-R/RWs, MP3 CD-R/RWs, and photo CDs. DVD+RWs and -RWs were a no-go, however.
Wired Ethernet setup was simple, and the routine for our 802.11b wireless home network required only a couple more steps. With both the D-Link DWL-900AP+ and the newer Netgear WGR614, the D2730 immediately recognized our access point. After that, we needed only to key in our WEP security code on the remote. As we had already installed and run the server software, we were ready to access our files.
As a living-room client for accessing PC-based digital media, the D2730 lived up to the hype. Getting to our entire collection of MP3 and WMA music, including PLS and M3U playlists, was easy. Streaming-music playback was silky smooth, and we enjoyed pumping our MP3 files through our big home-theater speakers. Photo viewing was similarly effortless, and the server software even lets you create playlistlike photo albums, each with a background MP3 song. The only thing missing is the ability to rotate off-angle photos.
But the D2730 really impressed us with its video streaming. Our doubts about video quality over the relatively low bandwidth of 802.11b quickly evaporated as the player spooled one MPEG clip after another with barely a snag. File size wasn't an issue; one 75MB Bugs Bunny cartoon played back without a hitch. Results will depend on your source material and network integrity, of course, so don't expect a 160x120-pixel video broadcasting at 8 percent signal strength to look like a Superbit DVD. That said, almost all our MPEG files looked just as good on the TV as they did maximized on the computer screen, and sound and synchronization were fine. The D2730 does not support the faster 802.11a and 802.11g standards, but with this degree of video-streaming quality, we can't complain.
With the exception of some stair-stepping on the video-based waving flag from the Genesis/Faroudja test disc, progressive-scan DVD playback was comparable to that of other inexpensive players. The machine's 3:2 pull-down engaged quickly to reduce artifacts in 24-frame film sources. While the factory sharpness level is noticeably high, it and several other video settings can be adjusted--albeit coarsely--from the remote. People using the D2730 on most non-wide-screen sets may notice the subpar anamorphic downconversion, which caused serious jaggies in Enhanced For Widescreen DVD video.