Editors' note: The HP DreamScreen is available in two models, one using a 10.2-inch screen, and the other using a 13.3-inch screen. For our review, we tested the model with the 10.2-inch screen. Since the two models are functionally identical, this review applies to both products.
Media collections are scattered these days, existing not just in our cameras, bookshelves, and computers, but on sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Pandora, and YouTube. If you had one device that could showcase all your favorite digital media, it would need to look beyond the home computer or the memory card and pull in media from across the Web.
That's the "dream" behind the HP DreamScreen, a tabletop display that connects to the Internet, your networked computers, and most memory card formats to put all your favorite media at your fingertips. The DreamScreen comes in two models with identical features, one with a 10-inch screen that sells for $299 list ($200 street) and a larger version with a 13-inch screen that lists for $349 ($250 street).
HP's lofty name may have set our expectations too high, unfortunately, because the DreamScreen functions as little more than a glorified digital photo frame. Its screen size, image quality, and the Pandora-streaming-music integration are impressive, but the remaining features left us disappointed.
The DreamScreen doesn't break any design molds, but it's a good-looking product. Squint a little and you could easily mistake it for a wide-screen sibling of the Apple iPad. The centerpiece of the design is the vivid, crisp screen that is available in 10.2 inches or 13.3. With the screen's 800x480-pixel resolution, images look great on it, and thanks to some kind of HP magic, even humdrum photos look a bit livelier.
A 1-inch black bezel frames the screen and provides a home for a touch-strip of backlit menu navigation controls that appear only when your fingers contact the lower right corner of the bezel and fade to black when not in use. These controls include arrows for navigating vertically and horizontally, buttons for Options, Back, and OK, and volume. The same functions are available on the included IR remote control, which tucks into a convenient cubby hole behind the screen.
By relegating navigation to the remote control and bezel, HP is able to avoid the kind of smudges and fingerprints that plague traditional touch-screen displays (such as the Apple iPad). Unfortunately, without direct onscreen control, entering the user names, passwords, and e-mail addresses that are required for its setup is awkwardly accomplished using arrow buttons. We're thankful that typing is kept at a minimum after the initial setup. On the flip side, without a practical keyboard, the DreamScreen will never be more than a one-way portal for receiving media.
On the right side of the DreamScreen, you'll find a power button, two USB ports (one Mini, one standard), a headphone jack, and a LAN port for a hardwired Internet connection (internal 802.11 Wi-Fi b/g also offered). The opposite side includes two memory card slots capable of accepting nine formats: SD, SDHC, MMC, MemoryStick, MemoryStick Pro, xD, CF I, CF II, and MD. The bottom edge includes a socket for the included (and necessary) power adapter.
Using the two holes on the back, it's possible to mount the DreamScreen on a wall. Without an easy way to hide the dangling power adapter cord, most will probably opt to attach the included metal stand, which offers sturdy support.
With a main menu that touts features such as Facebook, Pandora, videos, music, Internet radio, and more, the DreamScreen looks like an antidote to the plague of boring digital photo frames. We applaud the effort, but unfortunately, most of the features aren't worth your time.
Take the videos feature, for example. With today's digital cameras equally adept at shooting both photos and high resolution video, viewing home movies on a capable device with a nice screen seems like a slam dunk. Unfortunately, the DreamScreen supports only MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 (H.264) formats, forsaking the AVI and MOV containers used by many digital cameras, as well as Microsoft's WMV format. The video player is also sensitive to resolution, so any HD files you've transferred from your Flip or similar camcorders are a bust. In short, the DreamScreen doesn't play friendly with many important video formats, and the likelihood of it working with your home movies is slim.