|Mega media storage boxes - Review by APCMag|
|Friday, 14 August 2015 00:00|
Need a centralized spot to store your movies, TV and music?
Lindsay Handmer tests four and five-bay NAS boxes, with a particular eye for their media features.
As NAS boxes take on more and more computer like functionality, the software and interface becomes increasingly important. A good NAS OS will constantly receive updates (much like your smartphone), adding in new functionality, fixing bugs and improving performance. For streaming media, it can also bring support for new codecs and playback devices in your network.
Pretty much every NAS on the market can stream media to you DLNA compatible device, such as smart TVs, consoles and media players. A few of the higher end models also include HDMI outputs (plus remote controls) to play media directly on your TV. Even if you already have a media player, this can be a handy way to drive a second TV, or other setup such as a projector Some NAS models can also transcode media on the fly. This means that if you have a 1080p file, the resolution can be adjusted to fit devices such as phones and tablets. The advantages are lower bandwidth needed (very important if streaming via 3/4G) and no codec or resolution compatibility issues.
Most NAS devices currently on the market have more than enough grunt to send 1080P footage to a TV. But if you plan on streaming 4K, or want multiple HD streams running at once, a higher end model with more powerful CPU and extra RAM is worth the cost. Some models also allow you to add new features through USB, such as a Digital TV tuner.
Also consider the extra functionality apps provide — especially if you plan to frequently access and manage you NAS from a portable device.
A NAS with the media centric features you need.
Powered by a higher end Intel Celeron dual core CPU running at 2.41GHz, the AS5004T has 1GB of DDR3 RAM and four hot swappable HDD bays. If you want more RAM, it’s upgradeable to a lofty max of 8GB. The ASUSTOR can handle both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives and has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation and failover support. It also has a massive 5 USB ports - 3 USB 3.0 (one of which supports one touch backup) as well as two USB 2.0 connections. On top of that the ASUSTOR also has dual eSATA ports — overkill yes, but nice to have for connecting up older external drives.
Setup was extremely painless and the NAS was on our network within minutes of dropping in drives. In testing the ASUSTOR actually managed the highest read speed, though was just edged out in write speeds.
The free AiMaster app is one of the better options out there to control your NAS and access files and media on portable devices. Unfortunately though ASUSTOR separates out a whole range of functionality, such as streaming music, into separate apps. While they all work well, having a single solution would be neater.
As expected, the AS5004T handles DLNA media streaming with aplomb. For further integration in your living room, the AS5004T has an HDMI 1.4a output, as well as S/PDIF audio. It’s also got an IR receiver, letting you control it directly via the optional remote control.
Is it worth paying extra for performance?
Powered by a 2.41GHz Celeron CPU, the TS-451 also has a massive 4GB of RAM that is further upgradable to 8GB. You get dual USB 3.0 (one front, one back), two USB 2.0 ports and dual Gigabit Ethernet. The four drives bays easily slot in and out and can handle both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch HDDs. Setup was fast and painless, and the management interface is well laid out with good access to core functionality.
The TS-451 has a large rear mounted fan, but was virtually silent in operation. Access speeds are excellent and the NAS has full backup functionality. The QNAP apps give simple Dropbox like file syncing between devices. The TS-451 will also function as a file downloader, printer server and can connect to Wi-Fi or record digital TV via a USB device.
For those after extra security, the NAS supports AES-256 bit volume encryption and supports IP camera recording.
The TS-451 is DLNA ready, but also has an HDMI port and can play back 1080P with 7.1 surround sound. If you stream media to a lot of different devices, the TS-451 can also handle on the fly transcoding. This is handy for playing back video on portable devices and lets you minimize bandwidth use and avoid issues with codec compatibility. You can also set the NAS to transcode 4K media, though not on the fly. The QNAP lets you use your mobile as a remote, but also has an optional IR controller.
Media lovers rejoice!
Unlike other NAS devices that try to please everyone, the DS415play is totally aimed at those who want to stream content. A larger 4 bay version of the excellent DS214play, the Synology NAS can store up to a massive 32TB of media collection. Inside is a Dual Core Intel Atom CE5335 CPU that buzzes along at 1.6GHz, as well as 1GB of DDR3 RAM.
The Synology NAS feels a little plasticy at first, but once you get the slightly bendy tool-less drive bays locked away, the overall build quality is quite good. The front has a single USB 2.0 port, while you get another two round the back, as well as dual USB 3.0 connections. Unlike some of the competition, it only has a single LAN port, but for typical use this is no real loss.
The DS415play also has an array of solid Synology apps to make it easy to access your media on portable devices.
Importantly, the Synology NAS can transcode 1080p video on the fly. Not just to one device either — separate users can be transcoding media at the same time. This is particularly handy if you like to stream content to a range of portable devices but don’t want to mess around with codec support, or need to use wireless bandwidth efficiently. Whether or not it’s a feature needed for your media setup, it would have been nice to see an HDMI port on the DS415play for direct playback.