An audio-only digital media receiver, the Omnifi DMS1 streams music from your PC's hard drive and the Internet to your home entertainment system. Available for less than $200, the Omnifi is distinguished by its superior integration of streaming media services such as Rhapsody and Virgin Radio and its ability to play copy-protected songs purchased from Microsoft's online music partners.
Cosmetically, the 2.16-by-11-by-6.77-inch (H, W, D) DMS1 might be mistaken for a downsized A/V receiver. The black unit has both a front-panel display and a TV-based user interface, either of which can be used for music navigation. The Omnifi's well-designed remote control makes it exceptionally easy to navigate long track lists, with Page Up, Page Down, and Jump buttons that skip several pages at once. The Omnifi also has a full assortment of front-panel buttons, which are a godsend when the remote is missing in action.
Unlike lower-priced competing devices such as the Linksys WMLS11B and Netgear's MP101, the Omnifi doesn't have built-in wireless networking capabilities. An included USB-to-Ethernet adapter enables you to connect the Omnifi to wired home networks, or you can purchase the D-Link DWL-121 802.11b wireless USB adapter ($69 list) instead. (Alternately, you can buy the DMS1W version, which includes the wireless adapter.) The DMS1 doesn't have a digital audio output like those you'll find on Slim Devices' Squeezebox, so the standard RCA analog stereo output will have to suffice. The unit's video output (for displaying its menus on a TV screen) is enabled via composite and S-Video jacks. (Those looking for more options--including 802.11g support, video streaming, and local storage options--may wish to wait for the DMS2, due out in early 2005.)
Setting up the Omnifi was straightforward, but as with most digital media receivers, it was far short of plug and play. Two main applications--SimpleCenter 2.0 server and Rhapsody--must be installed on the PC's hard drive, and the software and Omnifi's firmware required downloadable upgrades for optimal performance. Finally, we configured the Omnifi for connection to our wireless network and connected it to our A/V receiver.
The Omnifi has almost all the mainstream bases covered when it comes to file support: PLS, M3U, and ASX playlists are compatible, as are home-ripped MP3 and WMA files. It's also compatible with files purchased from any Microsoft-affiliated online music store bearing the PlaysForSure logo: Napster 2.0 and Musicmatch, and MSN Music, to name a few. Unlike Apple's AirPort Express, however, it can't stream AAC files from the iTunes Music Store.
The Omnifi's extensive support of streaming music services is an extremely attractive benefit, because you get access to a huge array of always-fresh music. The must-have Rhapsody service currently costs $9.95 a month or $24.95 a quarter after the free trial period; the monthly subscription fee provides unlimited streaming access to Rhapsody's tracks (nearly 630,000 are available) and Internet radio stations. SimpleCenter 2.0, meanwhile, is preprogrammed to tune Shoutcast, LaunchCast, Live365, and Virgin Radio streams and is capable of ripping CDs to your music library.
In our tests, the Omnifi offered better than average sound. When we fired up a WMA file of "Army Dreamers," for instance, Kate Bush's distinctive vocal tone was fully intact and offered as good a quality as we'd expect from a compressed audio format. Like all wireless digital media receivers, the Omnifi occasionally suffered from playback dropouts, but in almost every case, the unit quickly resumed playback. In comparison, the Netgear MP101 had far more frequent reception problems, even though both units were installed in the same location, using the same network. Furthermore, the Omnifi is largely free from the laggy navigation that plagues its competitor, so it's able to quickly scroll through Rhapsody track lists.
Although the Omnifi and its companion D-Link wireless adapter are a pricey duo, the unit's integrated support for a wide selection of streaming music services, refined user interface, and overall stability justify the expense for those who are willing to pay for streaming music. In fact, only the absence of a built-in wireless adapter keeps this model from getting an Editors' Choice (the DSM1W is bundled with a wireless adapter). Bottom line: If you dig the Rhapsody service, the Omnifi DMS1 is the best way to enjoy it that we've heard to date.