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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro
It's Fury Before Sound With Wireless Media Receivers


D-Link's DSM-320 MediaLounge (Courtesy D-Link)

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Transcript: Rob was online to discuss this article.
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By Rob Pegoraro
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page F07

Can't anybody get this right?

This is what I keep thinking every time I test a wireless media receiver -- a new sort of box that uses your WiFi network to present your computer's digital music, photos and even videos on your stereo and TV.

The need for such a gadget can be explained by this alone: Who wouldn't like to be able to tune into Internet radio in the living room instead of bland, repetitive FM broadcasts?

And yet the manufacturers keep blowing it. They continue to ship media receivers that demand an agony of tweaking and leave out too many obvious and necessary features.

I'm not happy to report that the two contenders I've just tried, Prismiq's MediaPlayer and D-Link's DSM-320 MediaLounge, continue this losing streak.

Prismiq's device (Win 98 SE or newer, $200 at, plus $30 to $50 for a plug-in WiFi card) has been on the market for a long time, but a steady series of upgrades since its late 2002 release have added some impressive-on-paper capabilities. It not only plays your digital music, photos and videos, but it also lets you tune into RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service (a $9.95-a-month Internet jukebox) and browse the Web on TV.

Alas, getting the MediaPlayer set up was as excruciating as ever: First it didn't detect any wireless network, then it saw only my neighbor's, then it found my network but not the laptop running Prismiq's MediaManager software, then that program froze up the computer when I put it in sleep mode.

MediaManager is necessary to make your digital music (MP3s, but not song files downloaded from such stores as iTunes or Napster), photos and videos accessible to the MediaPlayer. It also lets you customize the MediaPlayer's Internet radio presets; Prismiq supports MP3 or Windows Media Audio broadcasts, but none of the three Windows Media stations I tried worked.

Prismiq's TV interface suffers from an excess of too-small type that flickered annoyingly, and it lets you browse through your MP3 library only by album -- not title, artist or genre. When playing, on the other hand, many songs were identified only by title, because the Prismiq software failed to read those MP3s' artist and album data.

Tuning in to Rhapsody was about as awkward; if you stop playback for any reason, resuming it takes three steps. And the first time you use the service, a creepy voice-over informs you that the MediaPlayer's digital-audio outputs don't work while you listen to Rhapsody -- an insultingly heavy-handed attempt to block music piracy.

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