The Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player connects to your home network and streams video, audio, and image files from your PC to your home-entertainment system. Like Prismiq's similarly designed Media Player, the Actiontec has basic Web-browsing capabilities and uses an off-the-shelf PCMCIA card for compatibility with wireless networks. Although we prefer the Prismiq Media Player's implementation, the Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player ($200 list, available for less online) offers more connectivity options and broader file-format support than its competitor.
Configuring the Wireless Digital Media Player was especially easy, thanks to a good quick-start pamphlet. It took about 10 minutes to connect the notebook-shaped 10.25-by-6.75-by-1.5-inch unit to our TV and A/V receiver, insert the PCMCIA card (unfortunately, it protrudes considerably from the side of the unit), install and configure the Media Buddy software on our PC, and configure the unit for our wireless network. The software looks in only one main folder and its subdirectories for each file type (music, video, and images), which means you'll have to relocate, for example, all of your video files to a single folder or one of the folder's subdirectories in order to make the complete collection accessible for playback.
An included remote operates the unit via an onscreen TV-menu system. Used in conjunction with the four-way keypad, the remote's Page Up and Page Down buttons simplify the task of navigating long media lists, while the Videos, Photos, Music, and Home shortcut buttons provide access to the main TV-based menus. You can navigate music tracks by artist, album, and genre. You can also browse media files by the folders and subfolders in which they're stored on your computer's hard drive.
The catch is that you have to stop playback to make the navigation and shortcut buttons functional. As a result of this annoying design, you can't browse for your next track, video file, or photo slide show while playback is active. Furthermore, you can't launch a photo slide show, then select its musical accompaniment. Rather, you must preconfigure your slide show's music on the PC. Although their implementations are substantially different, the Wireless Digital Media Player appears to use the same engine as Fia's On3, which has many of the same quirks.
You can surf the Web with the Wireless Digital Media Player, but it's a bit difficult unless you shell out for an optional wireless keyboard. To make surfing with the remote less cumbersome, the unit cleverly imports your Internet Explorer bookmarks. Unlike Prismiq's Media Player, this unit doesn't support instant messaging. However, it does offer more extensive file-format support and will output HDTV-friendly 480p and 1,080i video resolutions. The unit plays MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX (versions 3 and 4), XivD, AVI, and RMP4 video files; JPEG, GIF, TIFF, and PNG image files; and MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, and AAC audio files (though not WMA or AAC files downloaded from online music stores such as Napster or iTunes). It even did a fine job playing our 5.1-channel AC3 files, and we had no problem importing our ASX and M3U playlists. On the downside, there's no support for WMV video files, and you can't add more Internet radio stations to the factory-loaded list.
As noted, the Actiontec's connectivity options are impressive. The rear panel hosts high-resolution DVI and component-video outputs. You'll also find composite and S-Video outputs, an optical digital audio output, a coaxial digital audio output, and an RCA analog audio output. The Actiontec provides an Ethernet port for wired networks. The unit is compatible only with 802.11b cards; it doesn't support faster, higher-bandwidth 802.11g or 802.11a cards but uses buffering to enable wireless video-file playback.
With the Wireless Digital Media Player connected to our HDTV via component connections, our test files, including MPEG-2 and DivX video files, played smoothly and had excellent visual clarity. Audio sounded suitably clean, even through the analog outputs. We did occasionally have to reboot the Actiontec to restore a dead wireless link, but we've seen similar problems occur more frequently in other devices.
In the final analysis, this is one of those products that's almost--but not quite--fully baked. It has some nice features and offers decent performance, but its quirks gnawed at us a little too much for us to give it a ringing endorsement. (With any luck, future firmware updates will smooth out the rough edges.) Of course, for those willing to put up with those quirks, it's not a bad deal at $200.