Media streaming is the Holy Grail of home entertainment. People have been searching for it for a while now but no one has managed to find the device that actually delivers what we need.
Apple TV looks good and has a slick interface but the lack of material for it renders it little more than an expensive waste of electricity. We've seen other players that offer snatches of brilliance but there has not yet been the killer product that others have to copy.
KiSS has probably done the best job in the market, and has been making DVD players with media streaming capabilities for a lot longer than anyone else. Its latest offering promises a lot but does it actually deliver?
Of course, the natural device to compare the KiSS 1600 with is Apple TV. The KiSS 1600 is a bit less glamorous than its rival and it's also quite a lot larger in both height and depth. It's still not massive, though, and the added bonus is that it includes a DVD drive, which Apple TV doesn't.
The KiSS 1600 is pretty well built. There are only a couple of minor niggles in the looks department. The first is the DVD tray, which isn't quite flush with the top of the case. This is reasonably minor and generally we were impressed with how seamless the disc tray is -- you can hardly tell it's there until it's open.
To the rear of the Linksys is where the action happens. There are both component and HDMI outputs for high-definition televisions but there is also a full range of standard-definition outputs including Scart, composite and S-Video out.
From an audio perspective, you'll also find digital optical and coaxial outputs, for connecting to a similarly endowed AV receiver. There is also analogue stereo out in the form of RCA connectors.
The remote control is functional -- it's nice enough to hold -- but the buttons to navigate the menus can be a little fussy at times. Eventually we got used to this and were happy setting up the player. The menu system is fast and the added bonus is the LCD at the front of the unit, which tells you what menu option you are on.
The KiSS 1600 has a features list longer than the queue to buy a Harry Potter book on release day, which makes it an attractive deal, even for around £200.
With such a cornucopia of features, it's hard to know which ones to highlight as most worthy. Certainly the ability to connect it to your home network and stream files from any PC is cool. It's also nice and easy to use, and the provided app is as simple as they come and doesn't install a load of associated nonsense on your computer. It's certainly a more lightweight option than iTunes, which can really bog down slow machines with large music libraries.
The KiSS 1600 will play Windows Media, DivX, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, DVDs and H.264. For some reason, it doesn't specifically support QuickTime, and won't see files with the extension .mov. That said, it will play the files if you name them AVI. We didn't get the best performance out of them, though, with all the trailers from apple.com we watched having problems with motion judder. Perhaps a future update will help fix this.
Getting the player on the WiFi network was actually fractionally less difficult than with Apple TV. The remote makes it a bit of a pain but once you enter the passcode and SSID name, you're pretty much all set. Using a wired network is even easier, and you'll need to do this for streaming HD material, as Wi-Fi can't really cope with the bit rates involved in that.
We hooked the player up to a Sony Bravia TV via component in and were immediately impressed by the results. Most of the files we had stored on our test PC played with no problems. We had the occasional problem with a file that wouldn't play but that was down to a different code being used in its creation, rather than because of anything the player did wrong.
There is one enormous problem, and Linksys is at least partially to blame. The KiSS 1600 will not play DVDs upscaled over the component output. This is a copy-protection issue, and is intended to prevent high-quality copies being made of DVDs. It's kind of ridiculous, though, and isn't helped by the fact that the KiSS 1600 is also locked to DVD region 2. If you have a large collection of imported discs, this probably isn't the player for you.
We loved the quality of the KiSS 1600. Even when it was outputting via Scart, the quality was great. Most things played incredibly smoothly, even WMV video at 1080p.
Overall, this player is exactly the sort of thing we want from a media centre. It offers playback of most files, especially the ones most commonly found on the Internet. It's well priced, considering the rivals, and it offers loads of great features.
If you want a rival, Apple TV is it. Obviously, the Apple adds a hard drive but doesn't have a DVD drive. We don't think the Linksys needs a hard drive, and we think a DVD player is a lot more useful. We aren't happy that DVDs won't play upscaled via component, though. Given the ease with which DVD copy protection is broken, it seems a bit like locking the stable door when the horse has already done a runner.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday