ZyXEL HomePlug Digital Media Streamer DMA1100P review

£170
Price when reviewed

Even with draft-n wireless, streaming high definition content over a wireless connection isn’t always the ideal solution, a fact clearly demonstrated by the Linksys DMA2200 Media Center extender (web ID: 170382) we reviewed earlier this year.

Too many obstacles such as walls and windows can simply prove too much, causing juddering frame rates, or no picture at all. Wireless, even draft-n, can be fickle, which is we’d always recommend going for a wired connection for high bitrate streaming.

Step forward ZyXel and its DMA1100. This streamer is an evolution of the DMA1000 we reviewed, and gave an award to, in our media streamers Labs last year (web ID: 128765). And it appears to offer a very similar range of features as before.

The big difference is that, in addition to an Ethernet socket, this one has a powerline networking adapter built in. Just plug it into a wall socket and, as long as you have another certified HomePlug AV adaptor or device plugged into your router elsewhere in the house, it’s connected directly to the network. All you have to do to set it up is give it the encryption key, if you’ve bothered to set one up in the first place, that is.

It’s HomePlug AV Certified, too, which means it will work with HomePlug AV Certified devices from other manufacturers, but not those based on the older 85Mb/sec HomePlug standard or those that don’t have certification.

We tested the box with a number of different media files, including 720p and 1080p WMV files, and found that all played smoothly and without any skipping. To stress test it, we placed our video source as far as possible away from the box (60 metres and on a separate ring main) and still performance was exemplary – only a 1080p WMV file stuttered. Fast forwarding and rewinding files is reliable and quick. And we liked the fact that the ZyXel remembers where you were when you stopped, allowing you to resume easily where you left off.

File format support is good, too; the DMA1100 can play back WMV, AVI, MPEG 1, 2 and 4, Xvid, plus DiVX video files as well as MP3, WMA, WAV and AAC files. And photos don’t miss out either; the ZyXel is capable of displaying JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF and (less usefully) GIFs.

And connectivity is beyond reproach. On the rear panel you’ll find HDMI, coaxial S/PDIF, composite video and stereo RCA outputs plus a USB port for playing media via thumbdrives and external hard disks.

The user interface is straightforward but responsive, allowing you to browse media by directory, or by media type – where the box collates and organises all media files automatically by type, so you don’t have to remember which NAS drive, PC or laptop you left a particular movie clip or photo on.

Disappointingly all of this does come at a cost. Not only is the box itself quite expensive at £145 exc VAT, but unless you’ve already invested in HomePlug AV, you’re also going to have to shell out at least another £60 to £70 on a pair of adapters.

If you’ve already bought into the powerline networking, however, it represents much better value. It might not look particularly attractive, but in most other ways this is the best movie streamer we’ve yet come across. It’s certainly more practical than using the noisy Microsoft Xbox 360 as your main streaming media player.

Display

Display type None
Screen size Fail
Resolution 1920 x 1080

Software and OS support

Software supplied None
Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes

Physical

Dimensions width 244
Dimensions depth 165
Dimensions height 38
Dimensions 244 x 165 x 38mm (WDH)

Audio format support

MP3 support yes
WMA support yes
AAC support yes
OGG support no
FLAC support no
ATRAC support no
WAV support yes
ASF support no
AIFF support no

Video format support

DivX support no
XviD support yes
H.264 support no
WMV-HD support yes
WMV support yes
AVI support yes
MP4 support yes

Ports and communications

Remote control? yes
UPnP media server? yes
802.11a support no
802.11b support no
802.11g support no
802.11 draft-n support no
Ethernet interface yes
Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
RCA (phono) outputs 1
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1

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