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Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge DMP3000 review: Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge DMP3000

Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge DMP3000

Nathaniel Wilkins
5 min read
Over the last couple years, companies such as Roku have made great strides in creating products that reliably stream audio from a PC to your home stereo over a wireless network connection. Numerous manufacturers have also marketed products that wirelessly stream video, but unwieldy user interfaces and technical snags have limited the appeal of these devices compared to their audio-only counterparts. Finally, someone's gotten the streaming-video equation right. The Acoustic Research MediaBridge ($349) incorporates a logical, well-implemented user interface, has HD video output, and can stream DVD features from your PC. Factor in its exceptional stability, and you've got a winner.
Measuring in at 2 by 17 by 10 inches (HWD), the MediaBridge has a sturdy, spartan appearance. The brushed-silver metal faceplate is punctuated by a slim power button and two LED indicators: blue for power, orange for network status. Because the MediaBridge doesn't have a front-panel display or controls, you'll have to rely on the included remote and the TV-based user interface to operate the unit. The full-size remote control is well designed but lacks backlit keys, so your fingers may lose their way in the dark. Brightly colored Home, Movies, Music, and Pics buttons offer a convenient shortcut to the MediaBridge's main navigation menus, while the four-way directional keypad facilitates moving through lists. Unfortunately, when you want to navigate up a menu level, you have to press the Go Back button, which is located too far away from the keypad for ergonomic comfort.
Overall, the TV-based interface is among the better implemented of those that we've seen in devices with similar feature sets. You can navigate video files by production date, by directory, or by DVD. The MediaBridge can stream fully authored DVD titles that have been ripped to your computer's hard drive, but it can't stream DVDs from the computer's DVD drive. If you fire up a PC-based DVD, you can fully navigate the virtual disc's menus just as you can with a DVD player. There's a big catch here, of course: it's illegal to rip commercial DVDs to your hard drive if they're digitally encrypted, which the overwhelming majority of store-bought discs are. For the record, CNET does not encourage or condone the illegal copying of commercial DVDs, and we circumvented no copy-protection mechanisms during our testing of the Acoustic Research MediaBridge.
For music, the versatile browsing options include navigating by artist, album, genre, playlist, and filename, as well as by the directory structures in which the tracks are organized on your PC. And finally, you can navigate still-image files by date, directory, or even photo albums you've created and saved using the remote control. Unlike with some competing devices, you can get the MediaBridge to play musical accompaniment for photo slide shows on the fly without stumbling through cumbersome configuration screens.
The MediaBridge doesn't have a headphone jack, but otherwise, its connectivity is excellent. The unit includes built-in 802.11g/b wireless and comes with a low-profile external antenna to help bolster reception. There's also an Ethernet port should you run into wireless snags. Audio outputs include digital coaxial and optical connectors plus analog stereo (red and white) RCA jacks. While the MediaBridge is capable of passing Dolby Digital and DTS-encoded multichannel audio streams through the digital outputs, it lacks the ability to downmix that surround signal into stereo audio as your DVD player can. Thus, if the movie you're playing has multichannel audio, it will be available only through the digital outputs and cannot be played through the stereo RCA jacks. The workaround, if you're dealing with surround-encoded video, is to connect the MediaBridge to a decent A/V receiver. In terms of video outputs, the MediaBridge has its bases well covered with DVI, component, S-Video, and composite connections. There's also a USB port to which you can connect a memory card reader or an MP3 player.
To set up the Acoustic Research MediaBridge, you connect it to your TV and home stereo, power it on, select your display's aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9), and confirm the compatible HD resolutions. You then select your wireless network from a list, enter the network's WEP encryption key if it uses one, then install the MediaShare software on your PC. MediaShare lets you select the directories on your PC from which the MediaBridge is allowed to stream video, music, and image files, and it must be running in the background whenever you wish to stream files to the MediaBridge. In contrast with some media-server applications, it doesn't offer CD ripping or other media library management features. There's nothing wrong with AR's decision to keep things simple on the home front, but for the sake of versatility, we would've preferred the ability to stream via third-party UPnP servers such as iTunes and Musicmatch.
Along with the D-Link DSM-520, the Pinnacle ShowCenter 200 and the Xbox 360, the MediaBridge is one of the few digital media receivers capable of streaming HD video from networked PCs. Over an 802.11g wireless connection (or a wired Ethernet hookup), the unit can stream video at resolutions as high as 720p and still photos at as high as 1080i. Supported video files include MPEG-1; MPEG-2; MPEG-4; DV (over a wired connection only); DivX 3, 4, and 5; DivX HD; and XviD; as well as non-DRM WMV and WMV HD. That said, we ran across one WMV HD file that wouldn't play--your experience may vary depending on file versions. Still-image support is limited to JPEG, BMP, and PNG, but that should be more than sufficient for amateur photographers. Audio support includes MP3, WAV, and non-DRM WMA and AAC files. Acoustic Research claims it will soon add support for DRM WMA files (which would make the MediaBridge more attractive to users who purchase music online), but as with all future firmware promises, there's no guarantee as to when or if it will appear. The MediaBridge automatically imports any Windows Media and Musicmatch playlists that are stored in your PC's accessible directories. Unfortunately, unlike virtually every other digital media receiver we've tested in the last few years, the MediaBridge doesn't stream standard, free Internet radio stations. And unlike D-Link's DSM-520 and DSM-320, the MediaBridge doesn't support Rhapsody's subscription-based music service.
Aside from freezing the first time that we tried to play a video file, the MediaBridge delivered exceptionally stable performance. We set up the MediaBridge one room away from our wireless router with a thick plaster wall and approximately 20 feet separating the two. The MediaBridge indicated signal strength of 40 to 50 percent--roughly comparable to that of our 802.11g-equipped laptop from the same distance. On our HDTV, both HD video and still-image files looked great, but what really caught our attention was the MediaBridge's success at streaming a full-length DVD from our server PC without a single hiccup. We popped the same DVD into our DVD player to compare it to the MediaBridge stream, and the difference in image quality was barely discernable. Audio performance proved perfect through a digital connection and was perfectly fine, though unremarkable, through the analog jacks.
We like the Acoustic Research MediaBridge for its easy setup, its well-implemented user interface, its DVD menu support, and its generally reliable performance. If we were seeking a digital media receiver primarily to stream video, the MediaBridge would be the top contender. However, for audio applications, we naturally prefer devices that support DRM-protected audio files and the Rhapsody service.

Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge DMP3000

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 9
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