DMS-701 Media Server Setup and Interface
Apparently I missed a few emails from 2partsfusion because I never got the setup manual. Well, it is not so much a manual as a guide. Frankly, it is surprisingly short and useful. Oh, yes, useful. Anyone fairly familiar with a piece of audio equipment and some computer knowledge can figure out how to hook the thing up without the manual (I did), but there are enough full color pictures and easy to follow instructions that it makes me angry to read some of the stuff that comes from Denon, Yamaha, Pioneer, et al. Really, this is a good example of how to put together a guide: color picture of what you are talking about, labels on everything, and text using small words telling you where everything goes. Simple, easy, useful. It was also basic. This guide will get you up and running but will do little to troubleshoot problems.
Now, you do have to remember that this is a computer. I kept forgetting that and would wonder why something wouldn't work after I hooked it up. Case in point - I connected the unit to the display but couldn't get a picture. Struggled and struggled with it until I finally decided to restart it. Suddenly, I got a picture and remembered; unless it is USB, you need to restart each time you add something. Part of this has to do with a paradigm shift on my part - when I add a piece of equipment to my rack, I expect it to act like a set-top box and not a computer.
Unless you had the foresight to install an Ethernet run to your home theater (I didn't), I'd seriously suggest considering the wireless adapter. I had problems with mine (to be described later) but the convenience is unparalleled. The best and worst thing that ever happened to me was getting a wireless router. Suddenly I was free to surf the Internet anywhere in and around the house... which meant I was free to work anywhere in and around the house. But in this case, the wireless adapter and my less than state of the art router worked together without a hitch.
I found the DMS-701 to run silently in my room. The unit sits no more than six feet away from me as I type and it's been on for days and I can't hear a thing. This is definitely a media server that you can place in a room and not have to worry about annoying or distracting fans. I connected the unit to my Denon AVR-3805 via TOSLink and both s-video and component video connections.
MCE (Windows Media Center Edition) Interface
Unlike the programmer with the sense of humor (and probably looking for a new job right now ) that programmed this message to appear on the LCD screen when you plug the unit in and turn it on, I found the MCE interface to work quite nicely. Now, I'm not a programmer, so perhaps there are issues with Windows MCE that rise the ire to the point where such a message is deserved or at least justified. I don't know. I do know that the interface is well thought out and worked fairly intuitively for me. One thing I really appreciated was the interconnectivity of it. You didn't have to back all the way out of wherever you were to get to the settings page, you could mostly get to the settings you needed from where you were.
The MCE main menu was well laid out and easy to navigate. Some of the options (music, radio) would show you your most recently used ones to the right so that you could directly access them if you wanted. It is a nice option that cuts three or four button presses out of the process. I especially found it useful for music as my favorite albums were always on the top.
For the most part MCE would display a box in the lower left-hand corner of the screen showing the latest thing you were watching/listening as you navigated the menus. As long as you didn't go too deep into a menu item (connecting to the Internet or updating the guide, stuff like that) you could arrow over to the box and select it, expanding it to full screen. The box is painfully small so that you 舗 ll need a fairly large screen to really get much practical use out of it (actually see what is going on) but it is a nice feature.
One thing I didn't like was the volume control. Volume control? Why would I need that on this box? In what Bizarro World would I need such a feature? I can't think of a single use for it other than giving my child something to turn all the way down so I think there is something wrong with my receiver. Which he did - more than once. Punk.
The last thing that bugged me was scrolling. On many screens, you couldn't scroll up to get to the bottom of a list (i.e. the list didn't wrap around). When I have 20 programs saved and I want to watch the last one on the list, I find it tedious to have to scroll down 19 when I should be able to scroll up one. Also, make sure you have your keyboard and/or mouse handy whenever you come across an agreement disclosure. When I first started up the machine, I had to scroll though 50+ pages with the remote before it would let me "agree." With the mouse, you can just click "agree" and skip all that scrolling.
Setup and Performance - Movies
Now, I'm sure that this box can be used very successfully to burn and store movies. Honestly, until the courts decide whether or not you have the right to do that, I'm not going to tell you how. Suffice it to say that through the MCE interface, you can save movies to the hard drive but you can't add them to your movie database (and view them) if they are copyrighted. I guess this limits you to home movies burned on DVDs. I took the oldest DVD I have (DOA - the original) and tried to add it to my database but no luck.
Movie playback is mostly a snap through the DVD drive. When you load the movie, it will ask you if you want to play it no matter what you are viewing at the time. If you indicate "no" then you can always go back and play it later from the main menu or by hitting the DVD Menu button on the remote. That's mostly always and not always always go back, as it seemed that on a few occasions it would forget that I had a movie in the drive. Generally, I'd be listening to one of my DTS music DVDs (Porcupine Tree as often as not) the night before and the next morning, I'd want to start it again. Even manually opening and closing the drive would make no difference, I'd have to either switch movies or restart the unit. Though, if I restarted the unit with the movie in the drive it wouldn't load completely until I removed the DVD. Hey, I don't pretend to understand it, I just call them like I see them.
The one exception to my "it's OK to have the unit in the room with you" statement is during DVD playback. I could definitely hear the disc spinning from my preferred sitting position. It wasn't so loud that it was constantly distracting but I could hear it during the quieter moments of a movie.
Netflix is a wonderful and terrible thing: Wonderful in its convenience, terrible in how easy it is to put a dud on your list and forget to remove it. Enter Saw II . While I'm sure there are people out there that loved this craptacular movie, I'm not one of them. Predictable, unoriginal, and basically inferior to what I considered to be a mildly inventive first movie. I wasn't a huge fan of Se7en either but Saw (the original) was clearly an attempt to take Se7en and make it more gory (gorier?). Saw II is an obvious attempt to cash in on the original's success (due, in my opinion, in no small part to an advantageous release date). I will say that the DMS-701 proved more than capable as a DVD player, sending through a clear video feed and convincing DTS audio. Regardless of how I felt about the movie, I found the experience immersive and convincing without a hint of processing artifact.
I tested burning a DVD-R using the supplied drive and the MCE interface. I have to admit that in anticipation of them asking for the unit back, I decided to try and save the episodes of 24 that we had recorded and never gotten around to watching.
At first, I tried to do it myself and got the episodes on the DVD but wasn't able to play it on a standard DVD player (worked on the computer though). Eventually, I broke down and went to the 2partsfusion forums and found the answer in a few clicks.