I have been waiting for this product since first seeing it in prototype form more than one year ago. It was well worth the wait!
Digital content – photos and audio files – from ANY Windows Me, XP home or XP Professional-based PC on your home network is sent, seamlessly, to the HP Digital Media Receiver 5000 connected to your TV and, perhaps your audio/video system. Using the supplied wireless remote, I can navigate the simple, visual menus to select content and then play it from there to here. The new HP Digital Media Receiver (DMR) is a clear winner I can easily recommend!
I was up and running in less than 10 minutes. (See the set-up HERE. See the simple instructions HERE.) I opened the box and took out the software CD, the device itself, power supply, audio and video cables and retained the supplied Ethernet cable for later use, if needed. In my case, I tested the combined wired and wireless version, about $300. The wired-only version is about $200. I set up the Receiver atop my family room Toshiba TV and plugged it in, not turning it on. I connected the S-Video and audio output to an input on my Kenwood receiver. An S-Video cable is not supplied, although there is a composite video cable with standard RCA jacks included. I like to maintain S-Video throughout my system, so I used one of my own cables.
I loaded the software onto my laptop PC while in another part of Gadget Central, following the prompts and indicating “Yes” to everything. In addition to basic MusicMatch software that is specifically designed to work with the receiver, the disc also contains the networking software that talks to the HP DMR.
As soon as the software finished its installation, it prompts the computer to automatically connect with the Receiver to synchronize the content lists. In other words, the HP DMR creates a play list based upon the content it finds on the networked PCs.
As far as the network is concerned, the DMR is just another unit on the network.
Next, I grabbed the DMR’s remote and pushed the power button. I turned on my TV and receiver, selecting the appropriate input so I could see the Media Receiver interface on my screen. I followed the simple prompts to name the Receiver, clicking through the alphabet on-screen until I was finished with the naming scheme.
Next, I followed the prompts through selecting my wireless network, including setting up security options called WEP that protect my wireless network from unauthorized users logging on. The DMR was fully prepared for this. A few clicks later, the job was finished. Done. Simple? I’ll say! I was presented with a choice of music or photos. Starting with audio, I played a compilation I had already built, so to speak. Then, it was on to pictures. With a button press on the remote, I started a slide show with the music also running. Backing up through the menus, I selected the print option and the system sent a wireless signal to my networked office printer and out came a perfect print of the photo on the screen. ONE PRESS OF A BUTTON. It just does not get any simpler that this. I am mightily impressed!
Using the MusicMatch software, I organized and categorized my music, and it was reflected in the screen seen on the TV through the HP DMR.
At the heart of this simplicity is Linux-based software supplied by San Francisco-based Mediabolic. The DMR runs on Linux, which also explains its solid performance. (Linux info is HERE and HERE.) I don’t think Microsoft software could be as simple and bulletproof. (They still can’t seem to get Windows to work consistently without serious missteps!) HP, smartly, chose Mediabolic to make this thing work. Though the HP DMR is sold as a Windows-only product, nothing is preventing enterprising individuals and companies from contacting Mediabolic and purchasing their Software Development Kit SDK) to develop compatibility with, say, the Mac, since Linux is at the core of the rock-solid new Mac OS called Jaguar. Then, this terrific HP Digital Media Receiver will work with PC or Mac transparently, as it should.
Another great feature of this new HP product is the way it works seamlessly with ANY or ALL other properly configured PCs on the network. The software can and probably should be loaded on all other networked PCs containing content that might be of interest through the HP DMR. Then, the Media Receiver will seamlessly show ALL content from ALL enabled sources on the network, wired or wireless. In other words, I could have several PCs with digital content on them, and with the Media Receiver software loaded. The Media Receiver itself would see all these sources and compile or aggregate all the content as if on ONE machine, listing it all, just waiting to be selected.
The DMR does not care and treats all sources as one, the effect of which is to simply list all the content, regardless of its source. This, dear readers, is simply elegant and elegantly simple. See what you want and play it, music or photos. In my case, I have numerous albums created on the PC, so I just select the album I want, and then select to view individual photos (with tools to rotate them on the screen, too!) or the entire album.
When it comes to music or other audio content, such as, potentially, audio books, comedy albums or any other content in MP3 or WMA (Windows Media) format, the HP DMR will play it. I organized my music on the PC within the MusicMatch software so I could find it according to artist or genre. I could even set up favorite Internet radio stations to stream over the system. It is just so easy to find and select audio using the HP Digital Media Receiver remote.
Nothing would stop the user from implementing more than one of these in a home or small office. Each is independent and can access content independently, looking at the same content or selecting an alternate PC on the network. Lots of possibilities here.
HP has done some terrific work here. The product is not one in search of an audience. I think the audience is there and ready to accept this fun and useful product. At a price of just $200 for the wired version and only $300 for the wireless version, it’s easy on the wallet, too.
What won’t it do? Well, the technology to stream high quality digital video requires more bandwidth than this product offers. I expect it to be targeted only at the market for digital audio content and digital photos. Others, at higher prices, will introduce devices using different technology to stream video, but none I have seen offer the simplicity and very reasonable price for all you get with this product.
I like the HP Digital Media Receiver just as it is. Anyone can use and enjoy one of these, and that’s the point. With wired/wireless router prices as low as $50 for the standard 802.11b models, the cost to go wireless for all the PCs in a home or small office is not so much of an issue. The benefits of wireless just make sense for laptops and for any computer located where running a wire is not practical and may be more expensive than connecting wirelessly.
If you’re STILL not convinced, watch this demo I found on the HP Website. It also has shots of the on-screen TV menus so you can see how simple is the interface.
It is safe to say that having one of these can positively change the way you enjoy all your digital music and photos. Now, conveniently, you can see everything on your TV AND channel music content you used to listen to (or rarely listened to) so that you and your family can enjoy it often, hassle-free.