Jul 23, 2014 Nick Rego
The last time I looked at a NAS from Synology it was the DS213J, which was a decent performer but had a few design elements that I hoped the company would address in future models. This time around I’m looking at the DS214play, which Synology is touting more as a media-friendly NAS, thanks to a few new features that have been introduced.
The DS214play sports a sleek black design, and is a two-bay NAS. Accessing the bays is a simple task of popping off the front curved cover to expose the two bays. Then simply eject which bay you want, and you’ll be able to slot in a 3.5” HDD in seconds, thanks to the tool-less design. You can use smaller drives if you wish, but these will need to be secured in separately. Once you’ve slotted in your drive, just pop it back into the enclosure and you’re good to go.
Also on offer are a number of ports – at the back you have two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, and Gigabit Ethernet. Around the front you’ve got a single USB 2.0 port and an SD card reader – the card reader lets you insert an SD card and with a touch of a button copy its contents to a predefined folder on your NAS. This is probably useful if you want to just bulk-copy photos and content onto the NAS to edit later on. It would have been nice if Synology made the front port USB 3.0 as well for faster copying speeds, or swap one of the rear ports to the front instead.
Keeping the DS214play cool is a single internal fan that runs very quiet, even when the system is under considerable strain. Some may argue that if this is a media device that there should be an HDMI port, however my opinion is that this isn’t necessary. With the abundance of Smart TVs and other DLNA-ready devices such as video game consoles, the DS214play is more than capable of streaming to all of these, so slapping on an HDMI port may have made little difference (and would have probably upped the system’s size or price).
Certain NAS systems can be a bit of a chore to setup, but the DS214play is so simple that even someone with zero knowledge of networking can set it up. Once it’s powered on, you just navigate to the DS214play’s web interface via its IP address, or download a software package from Synology’s website which will automatically detect the DS214play on your network and open the setup page. Once you’re directed to the setup process, you simply create admin credentials for the device and specify what kind of disk system you’d like to use. Synology offers its own SHR disk system (Synology Hybrid RAID) which is a great option for beginners to use, but of course advanced users can change this if they like. Once the drives have been initialized (which takes little under ten minutes), you’ll be directed to the DS214play’s main ‘desktop’ interface which lets you setup the various software features of the DS214play.
When dealing with a NAS, interface is key. If it’s too complicated then it will deter users from the product, and if it’s too simple then power users won’t be able to unlock all the features they would like. The DS214play comes somewhat in between. On one hand its simple interface makes navigating through the various options and apps extremely easy for non-technical users. On the other hand, power users can drill into the various options and configurations, and install a number of useful applications in a matter of seconds.
The Package Center is Synology’s app store, and in it you can find installable apps for backup, security, media, web hosting, and much more. Each app installs with just one click, and can then be launched directly from the DS214play’s desktop or from the app drawer. There are apps for organizing your media, simplifying backup routines, and even the option to install advanced services such as VPN, email, DropBox, and a Download Manager. By far the Media Server and Download Manager were the most useful apps, which allowed me to stream my content to almost any device, as well as queue files for downloading directly to the NAS without needing a PC. I was also able to use the File Manager app to seamlessly copy all my data (829GB) from my old network drive to the DS214play, which took about 5 hours to complete because my old network drive only had a 10/100 Ethernet port.
Hardware-wise you’re looking at an Intel Atom Dual-core CPU running at 1.6GHz with 1GB of DDR3 RAM. Synology claims that this updated chip allows for hardware transcoding, which delivers a more smoother streaming experience, especially when watching full HD content. The system can also hit a max of 8TB of storage, depending on the drives that you install.
We tested the DS214play in two batches – first with NASPT followed by a series of media-specific tests. The results from our NASPT run are below, compared against the DS213J.
|HD Video Playback||7.092||11.51|
|2x HD Playback||10.81||11.721|
|4x HD Playback||11.28||11.724|
|HD Video Record||34.7||35.719|
|HD Playback and Record||8.35||13.288|
|File copy to NAS||49.12||48.84|
|File copy from NAS||12.25||11.27|
|Dir copy to NAS||7.69||8.32|
|Dir copy from NAS||4.72||5.454|
Since the DS214play has been advertised as being able to handle media more intelligently, I experimented with a couple of file types and sizes to see what the results were. When streaming a DVD-rip of Constantine from my collection, the quality was quite good and there was minimal pixilation on the streamed video. Bumping this up to a 1080p stream of the movie “Ted” was superb, with the difference in quality really shining through. Similarly, animated movies looked crisp and streamed perfectly, whether I was watching them on my PS3 or my iPad. The CPU load was also minimal, often not crossing more than 8% CPU utilization.
All of these files were in .avi or .mp4 format, so I threw in a few .mkv files as a measure to see if these would work as well, as I’ve previously had issues playing them on my PS3 via my MyBook Live network storage device. Unfortunately, the .mkv files didn’t play at first on any of my devices, regardless of disabling or enabling the video transcoding feature of the Media Server application. But after installing a minor recent software update on the DS214play that had been released after I started my review, the .mkv files played flawlessly on any device. Equipping the DS214play with a Gigabit Ethernet really made a difference, as scrubbing through various parts of a clip were almost instantaneous, compared with the 10/100 connection on my previous network drive.
Similar to other NAS devices, the DS214play offers you the option of accessing it remotely using a free service powered by Synology. You simply register your device with a unique name and account, and you can then access your NAS from anywhere in the world using just a web browser. The system worked perfectly, and I was able to queue a 2GB file for download onto the NAS while I was still at the office, so when I reached home the download was already finished. You can also stream videos remotely, which will depend heavily on the type of Internet connection you have on both ends. But needless to say I was able to catch up on my TV episodes from the comfort of the office with minimal interruptions. There are also apps available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone which makes this process even more seamless.
The DS214play is certainly an impressive device. If you already own a Synology NAS, you’ll be able to use most of the software features available on the DS214play, but you’ll certainly see the difference when it comes to media streaming. It’s a svelte NAS that can easily be tucked away at the corner of your living room while serving media content all around your house. It’s a little more fleshed out than similar solutions offered from other manufacturers such as WD, and while it may a bit on the pricey side at AED 1,383 given that it doesn’t ship with any drives, it’s still a durable and worthy investment to consider if you’ve got a vast media library.
+ Very easy to setup
+ Good suite of downloadable apps
+ Free remote access solution
- Can be considered a bit expensive
A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys playing videogames during work hours and tinkering with the latest gadgets.
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