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Photos And Movies

The Photo option is designed to allow the display of digital photo slide shows on your TV (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Photo selection

Figure 9: Photo selection

From this screen you can display individual photos or cycle through the entire directory, either sequentially or randomly. It was also possible to combine a slide show with music by first starting the music playback and then navigating to the photo menu to start the slide show. D-Link supports most common image formats including JPG, GIF, BMP, PNG, etc. This feature worked well and even had options for individual photo rotation, zooming, panning, etc.

Next was Movie playback, which was the hardest feature to get right. There are many, many different formats out there and I've never seen a device that plays back more than a handful of them. D-Link advertises support for WMV9, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, XviD and AVI. But there are caveats since these formats can vary widely. For instance, MPEG4 support is qualified by the statement: "Advanced simple profile only without quarter-pixel or global-motion compensation." So when your grandma asks why the video you sent her won't play, just read that qualification back to her with a smug tone in your voice.

As I experimented with the box' capabilities, I found that I could play MPEG1 and standard-definition MPEG2 files without issue. I could even play video from DVD VOB files. I also found I could create a DSM-520 playable file using Handbrake to rip a DVD to MPEG4 video and MP3 audio in an AVI wrapper.

This was the first time I've been able to use a freeware tool to easily rip DVDs to a format playable by one of my network multimedia devices. I also had success with some high-definition Divx movie trailers. They looked great playing back through the digital HDMI connector on my HDTV.

Since I also had the ability to view the same video using component cables, I tried switching back and forth to see if I could tell the difference. Honestly, to my eye they both looked good and I'm not sure I could tell which one was better. If I had to choose, I think I'd pick the digital picture, but then maybe I'm just trying to justify the $50 cable purchase to my wife!

That said, I had a number of files that couldn't be played, such as MJPEG movies from my digital camera. One MPEG4 movie that was compatible with other devices played back in slow motion and was out of synch with the sound. I tried a high-bit-rate MPEG2, 1080i video clip from "Lord of the Rings." It successfully played on my Buffalo LinkTheater, but the DSM-520 just gave me a black screen.

I also couldn't play an MPEG4 movie encoded with an H.264 codec, and even worse, after I tried, the decoder got in a bad state refusing to play videos that had played before. Only a power-cycle restored its state.

It just seemed to be a bit of hit-and-miss trying to play back various video files I've accumulated over the last several years. This is common with these boxes, but the feeling I got was that the DSM-520 did as least as well, if not better, than any of the other half a dozen or so devices I've tried.

One little problem I saw while viewing movies was the lack of a screen-saver. I paused a movie and left the room, but when I came back much later, the screen saver had not kicked in. People with TVs susceptible to burn-in should be careful.

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