Wireless media adapter: Great idea but needs some work

This device (like other wireless media adapters) allows you to send media such as video, audio and still image files from your networked host PC directly to your TV or hi-fi. However, what’s hot about the EZ-Stream is that it supports the faster 802.11g wireless networking standard, theoretically giving it a key advantage over slower but more commonplace 802.11b systems. (See “Easy as ABG”, below).

Hooking up the EZ-Stream to your network takes a bit of patience, particularly when using the remote control to key in network configuration data such as SSIDs, WEP security codes and IP addresses. In our case, this was compounded by the fact that the base unit repeatedly failed to connect to the server, even though the server itself could see it on the network — a problem that was only rectified when we used the server software to address the base unit directly.

Even when you’re past the setup stage, the EZ-Stream can take more than a minute to boot up and the onscreen menu system is unresponsive and awkward. Irritatingly, the next/previous track buttons on the remote control only work when you’re playing back files on a playlist.

Even when you select a track from the Album view, the EZ-Stream drops back to the menu once it’s played out, so you’ll need to create playlists for each album if you want to listen to them right the way through. Equally annoying is the fact that it bundles all your video files into the same list, leaving you dependent on scrolling or laboriously keying in a search to find a specific file.

Although the EZ-Stream supports a variety of media formats (JPG, BMP, MP3, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2) and MP3-based streaming Internet radio, it resolutely ignores common alternatives such as WMA, WMV, AVI (including Divx/MPEG-4), MOV, GIF, TIF, WAV or MP3Pro. Not only that, but the claimed maximum bandwidth allowed for MPEG-2 transfers is 4Mbps, so the EZ-Stream takes absolutely no advantage of the extra data transfer rate provided by its support for 802.11g wireless networks.

We tested the product on both an 802.11b and 802.11g network and found no perceptible difference in performance on either; a 5Mbps MPEG-2 file suffered from the same dropped frames and stuttering audio on both setups. In fact, we failed to get smooth playback even for 4Mbps files, regardless of the network type or signal strength. We found a more realistic bit rate for video files was in the region of 2-3Mbps, which is fine for audio transfers but not enough for anything except low-quality video.

Having said all this, asking for an S-Video output seems useless because it’s unlikely you’d see much of an increase in quality over the supplied composite video connection.

There are many ways the SMC EZ-Stream could be improved: better menu navigation, improved file support, data transfer rates that actually justify use of an 802.11g network, or even just a better-looking box.

Easy as ABG — wireless standards explained

Three flavours of wireless network are available: 802.11a, b and g, of which b is the most widely accepted standard. Although 802.11b is more than enough to share a broadband Internet connection between the PCs in your home, it can struggle when faced with heavy jobs like piping full-screen video to media receivers such as the EZ-Stream. This is despite claiming an 11Mbps maximum transfer rate as, in real terms, the best you’ll get is approximately 6Mbps.

Using a network based on the 802.11g standard should, theoretically, give you more headroom — but, again, the 54Mbps maximum transfer rate is misleading, and drops down to around 20Mbps in practice. This is due to measures taken by 802.11g hardware to ensure compatibility with the more common 802.11b clients. Just to make things worse, hooking up a single b device on a g network will slow everything down to the b transfer rates, making your g hardware virtually redundant.

Price: $499
Distributor: IT Wholesale
Phone: (02) 8748 6700
URL: www.itwholesale.com.au

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Laurence Grayson

PC World
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