The D-Link MediaLounge DSM-520 digital media receiver is a follow-up to the company's DSM-320, which was released in early 2005. Both models wirelessly stream video, image, and audio files from a PC to a home-theater system, but unlike its standard-def predecessor, the DSM-520 is capable of streaming HD video and photos. Notably, the DSM-520 also has impressive audio functionality, including support for DRM-protected WMA files purchased from Internet music stores such as Napster and Musicmatch. What's more, the unit works with Rhapsody's premium audio-streaming service, giving you instant, on-demand access to a vast catalog of music. And to top it off, the DSM-520's ($249) broad assortment of features is complemented by considerably better wireless performance than we experienced with the older DSM-320. Measuring 1.5 by 11.25 by 16.75 inches, the D-Link MediaLounge DSM-520's component design makes for a decent aesthetic match with home-theater systems. Because the slim, mirrored front panel doesn't have a display or any controls besides a power button, you'll have to rely exclusively on the DSM-520's remote control and a connected TV for navigation.
The midsize, 45-button remote control is laid out intuitively and has shortcut keys that facilitate easy media-library navigation. The remote's four-way keypad and center-mounted Enter button handle the brunt of the work for navigating media file categories, directory levels, and track lists, while music, photo, and video shortcut buttons let you skip straight to a particular file category. Page-up and page-down buttons expedite wading through long track lists; the device has a search function, but it's clunky. Conveniently, the remote comes with volume controls. The TV-based interface is uncluttered, and its logical structure helps navigation flow naturally for the most part. Unlike some digital media receivers, the DSM-520 allows you to fire up music and an accompanying photo slide show without wading through configuration screens.
Setup is easy as far as networked media devices go. From the included CD-ROM, you install D-Link Media Server; select the video, image, and audio file types you want to make accessible for playback via the DSM-520; point the software to the PC directories where your media files are stored; and wait while the software scours your hard drive. The application took around five minutes to index approximately 1,800 media files located on our PC's hard drive. After connecting the DSM-520 to your A/V receiver and TV, you power on and follow simple prompts to connect the device to your network. Beginners can use Windows Connect Now to transfer their PC's wireless network settings to the DSM-520 via a USB thumbdrive, obviating the need for manual configuration. For wireless networks, the DSM-520 supports 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption but not WPA encryption. Right off the bat, we were prompted to download new firmware, which took only a couple minutes to complete its installation.The D-Link MediaLounge DSM-520 offers broader range of support for video-, image-, and audio-file formats than most digital media receivers, and it works with multiple online content services. Compatible video files include MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, XviD, MPEG- 4 AVI, and WMV9 (DRM protected and nonprotected) but not earlier WMV versions. Although not officially supported, DivX and DivX HD files are acceptable too. Unlike the competing Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge, the DSM-520 doesn't support DVD menus for virtual DVDs stored on your computer's hard drive. It did play individual VOB files but with mixed results. The DSM-520 supports resolutions of up to 1080i for MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files and 720p for WMV HD files. Still-image support (digital photos) is also better than average; JPEG (grayscale, RGB, and YCbCy only), BMP (noncompressed), PNG, TIFF (RGB only), and GIF image files can all be streamed. Almost any size photo will work, but the DSM-520 will display them at its maximum resolution of 720x480 pixels, or the same as a standard DVD. The DSM-520 has 4:3 and 16:9 aspect-ratio modes to accommodate standard and wide-screen displays.
Turning to audio, the DSM-520 plays noncompressed WAVs and AIFFs in addition to compressed MP3, WMA (DRM protected and nonprotected), and OGG audio files. Like every non-Apple digital audio receiver to date, the DSM-520 can play neither protected AAC files purchased from the iTunes Music Store, nor nonprotected AACs. To play DRM-protected Windows Media files, your PC must run Windows Media Connect. The unit is compatible with PC-based M3U and PLS playlists, and it's capable of passing a 5.1-channel audio signal through its digital outputs to your A/V receiver for surround sound.
A $9.95-per-month Rhapsody subscription will allow you to stream music on demand from the premium service's vast catalog to the DSM-520 and your home stereo system. Using the DSM-520's remote, you can easily navigate your entire Rhapsody library and fire up playback of Rhapsody radio-style stations and custom playlists. Other compatible online offerings include subscription-based Radio@aol as well as Live365, which provides free and subscription-based memberships. Each features extensive programming, but it's worth noting that the DSM-520 can't stream Radio@aol's assortment of XM stations, which are available to the service's PC-based users.
On the connectivity front, the DSM-520 has it all. It's fully stocked with HDMI, component-video, S-Video, and composite-video outputs, plus coaxial and optical digital and stereo analog RCA audio outputs. In addition to a removable wireless antenna, the DSM-520 has an Ethernet port for wired networks. The unit utilizes the 802.11g standard, which offers the bandwidth to stream HD video, but it'll connect with slower 802.11b Wi-Fi networks if you don't mind video hiccups. D-Link offers a $49.99 extended-range wireless antenna, which might help out if you run into wireless snags. Connecting a USB drive or an MP3 player to the DSM-520's front-panel USB 2.0 port enables playback of compatible files located on the external device. According to D-Link, the DSM-520 supports any drive or MP3 player with a FAT or FAT32 file system, but iPods aren't compatible.Over an 802.11g wireless connection, high-bandwidth video such as DVD-quality MPEG-2 and WMV HD files played smoothly for the most part, even with the unit set up approximately 30 feet away from our wireless router and a plaster wall separating them. Naturally, the D-Link DSM-520 also did a reliable job of wirelessly streaming audio from Rhapsody, Live365, Radio@aol, and our PC's hard drive. Also in wireless mode, the DSM-520 capably ran a slide show of 3-megapixel JPEGs with MP3 and noncompressed WAV accompaniment. The device's analog audio outputs sounded clean and video looked sharp with the unit connected to our HDTV's component inputs.
The DSM-520 successfully streamed music from a USB-connected Cowon iAudio M5 and was generally capable of displaying image files stored on the MP3 player, although they loaded somewhat slowly and BMP files weren't viewable via USB. You navigate USB-connected devices strictly by directory. You can't, for instance, navigate the tracks on a connected MP3 player by genre or album, and to reiterate, iPods aren't compatible. What's more, the D-Link didn't recognize our Canon PowerShot A510 digital camera. Those snags notwithstanding, we found the D-Link MediaLounge DSM-520 to be one of the better HD video-capable digital media receivers we've tested to date.