Early media receivers cost more than $1,000 and could stream only audio files. In comparison, today's models are quite affordable and offer extensive multimedia functionality. SMC's EZ-Stream, for example, features wireless 802.11a/b/g network connectivity and can stream audio, video, and photos from a networked PC's hard drive to a TV or a stereo system on the other side of the house. Unfortunately, the EZ-Stream's unrefined design and spotty video quality are reminders that newer isn't always better.
The slim, silver-and-blue EZ-Stream is vertically oriented, so it looks more like a cable modem than a home-audio device. The small, lightweight remote is simple to a fault; there just aren't enough buttons. The lack of page-up and page-down controls, for example, makes navigating long track lists a real hassle.
The EZ-Stream's biggest selling point is its integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless networking. That capability is a complete solution for today's market, but the unit doesn't have a PCMCIA slot, so upgrading to future standards will be impossible. The rear panel does include an Ethernet port for people who haven't yet made the jump to a Wi-Fi network. For audio, you get one pair of stereo RCA analog line outputs but no digital out. Video hookup is limited to composite sources, and there's no aspect-ratio control.
Initial setup of the EZ-Stream was straightforward. In about 15 minutes, we connected it to the TV, the Ethernet router, and the A/V receiver; installed the server software on our PC; and configured the unit to work on our 802.11g network. After we'd disconnected the Ethernet cable and switched to wireless mode, building a library of audio, video, and photo files with the server application's folder-sharing feature was a simple affair. Only Internet radio posed a challenge; programming the EZ-Stream for a handful of stations became a convoluted chore.