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If you want to be able to use your TV to view the photos and videos stored on your PC's hard drive then you need a media streamer. This one from ZyXEL costs just £130 and handles a broad range of video and picture file formats, which it can output in high-definition resolutions up to 1080i over HDMI. It also play back music files in common formats such as MP3 and WMA.
The DMA-1000 doesn't support Wi-Fi, and while this may initially seem crazy, it's not complete madness on a device that supports high-definition video. You see, most wireless networks don't have the bandwidth to steam HD content, so people end up using a wired network or HomePlug mains networking anyway.
The lack of wireless also means that the streamer is very easy to set up. All you have to do is plug a cable from your router into the back of the unit and then load the server software on your PC. The device will then automatically find your PC on the network. We were up and running in a matter of minutes.
ZyXEL has done a good job on the interface. It's not in the same league as Apple TV, but it's still very straightforward to use and has big, bright icons that give you quick access to your music, videos and photos. Album art is shown when you playback music and you can set a song playing in the background while you watch a slideshow of your photos.
Video playback of both high-definition and standard-definition material -- in WMV9, AVI, MPEG-4 and Xvid formats -- either across a network or from a drive attached to the USB port at the rear was very smooth. The player is also responsive to fast-forward and rewind controls, something that can't be said of all media streamers. Audio quality (in MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC and LPCM codecs) was impressive too. Music sounded beefy via the stereo analogue outputs, while surround-sound effects in movies were suitably explosive.
Although the streamer supports a pretty broad range of file formats it doesn't support files that have been protected with digital rights management. The result is that it can't be used to play audio tracks bought from online music stores such as Napster or HMV, and it doesn't work with video files downloaded using the BBC's new iPlayer service. This is disappointing because other, older devices such as the Pinnacle ShowCenter 200 are able to handle these types of files. Another issue is that it can't show subtitles, so it's not going to be a good choice for fans of world cinema.
The lack of Wi-Fi may also count it out for some. It's not so much an issue for those who want to stream high-definition movies because they'll probably need to use a wired connection anyway, but people only interested in standard-definition video would probably be better off looking at something like the Philips SLM5500, which does offer Wi-Fi.
The limited connections on the rear may also be an issue. Although the device has HDMI and S-Video ports for connecting to TV, it would have been good to also have the option of using component video, especially as most high-definition TVs don't exactly offer an abundance of HDMI sockets.
With its low price, easy setup and simple menu system, the ZyXEL DMA-1000 is not a bad budget option for those who want to be able to enjoy most of their PC's media files on their telly. It's just a shame it can't play programs downloaded via the BBC's iPlayer.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide