The vertically oriented SL300i ($299 list) looks more like a home networking device than an A/V component, but that's not a deal-breaking gripe since many competitors, such as SMC's EZ-Stream, have similar styling. Although the Streamium lacks front-panel controls, a full-size remote is supplied for navigating the device's well-organized TV-based user interface. Most digital media receiver remotes have Page Up and Page Down keys to help scroll long track lists rapidly, but inconveniently, that's not the case here.
In addition to allowing users to individually add Internet radio station URLs, the Streamium supports a wide array of free and fee-based Web media services. Selections include the Adante on-demand classical music service, plus the Playhouse Radio for children, RadioFreeVirgin, Launchcast@Yahoo, Live365, and Musicmatch Internet radio services. Only Adante requires a subscription ($10/month), while optional Musicmatch and Live365 subscriptions get you access to a wider selection of stations than the services' free versions offer. You can also launch simple games, play iFilm short movies, and view Launch Music videos and Yahoo Movie trailers. What's more, Yahoo Photos' online photo galleries are supported, enabling you to remotely upload photos to your account, then view them on the Streamium. We signed up for a free Adante trial and liked the service and its sound quality, but we longed for some variety beyond classical tunes. Unlike Prismiq's MediaPlayer and audio-only competition such as Rockford's OmniFi and Roku's SoundBridge M1000, the SL300i doesn't support Rhapsody, an on-demand subscription music service with a behemoth catalog of mainstream music. Despite its compatibility with Musicmatch, the SL300i also proved incapable of streaming tracks from Musicmatch On Demand, a competitor to Rhapsody.
Compared to some digital media receivers, including Philips's pricier SL400i ($449 list), the SL300i isn't especially well stocked in the connectivity department. Around back, you'll find composite and S-Video inputs, but the device lacks the higher-quality component-video output found on the 400i. The SL300i has two stereo analog RCA audio outputs but doesn't have a digital audio output, and there's no headphone jack for private listening. To its credit, the SL300i does have built-in 802.11g wireless networking in addition to an Ethernet port for wired networks.
The SL300i offers extensive file format support: it plays MP3, MP3Pro, Real Audio, and WAV audio files (and M3U playlists); and MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, and XviD video files; and it displays JPEG, BMP, and GIF image files. Unfortunately, it's not compatible with WMA or AAC files, including those from online music stores.
Setting up the Streamium was straightforward, although configuring the vast number of Internet content services was time-consuming. After we installed the Philips Media Manager server software on our PC, the application scoured our hard drive, building a library of compatible media files. With the Streamium's S-Video and analog audio outputs connected to our A/V receiver, we powered on the unit, then followed the prompts to set up a myphilips.com account. To complete installation, we logged on to myphilips.com on the PC and configured the Streamium's Internet-based services. It's worth noting that you can use Musicmatch Jukebox instead of Philips Media Manager as the music server software, but you'll still have to use Media Manager to stream video and image files.
During our tests, the SL300i smoothly streamed audio and image files, only occasionally suffering wireless connectivity dropouts. The respectable audio quality was comparable to that of most other digital media receivers. High-resolution photos looked good on our HDTV, although colors may have been more vivid through a component-video output. Selectable low-, medium-, and high-bandwidth settings enable you to tweak the video quality as needed to accommodate the performance of your wireless network.
Aside from the occasional playback snag, even high-resolution video files, such as our 720x480 MPEG-2, typically played smoothly with the bandwidth setting on high, though your mileage will vary depending on a variety of factors that can affect wireless network performance. Unlike some digital media receivers, the SL300i doesn't allow playing background music during photo slide shows. That's a rather significant drawback for some users, and Philips claims a future firmware update may remedy the situation.
In the final analysis, the SL300i can certainly hold its own against similarly featured competitors such as the iCube Play@TV ($199 list) and the aforementioned SMC EZ-Stream. Alas, the SL300i falls significantly short only by not offering WMA and Rhapsody support, both of which are rapidly becoming staple features of digital media receivers.