Synology’s DS214 Play is the speedy media-focused big brother to the DS214.
A closer look at the Synology DS214Play
At first look, the Synology DS214 Play looks awfully similar to the DS214. Both devices feature an identical case that houses two drive bays. To the untrained observer, the only difference between the two devices is the inclusion of an SD card on the front of the DS214 Play.
The similarities, however, end at the hardware — the DS214 Play packs a far heftier hardware punch. While the DS214 came with an ARM-based 1.06 GHz dual-core processor and 512 MB of RAM, while the DS214 Play ups the ante with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom 32-nm Berryville Evansport processor (an obvious choice for its native transcoding abilities) and 1GB of RAM. The DS214 Play also includes some helpful features that were absent in the DS214.
One helpful feature that made its way into the DS214 Play that was missing in the DS214 is eSATA. Like the DS214, the DS214 Play comes with one USB 2 and two USB 3 ports. Also like the DS214, the DS214 Play is relatively easy to set up: the drive caddies come out without much effort, and the installation process is a straightforward enough.
While the DS214 Play’s software package is largely similar to what’s included with the DS214, the faster processor and increased RAM mean its possible to transcode 1080p video on the fly. This means any video format that contains a H.264, MPEG-4, MPEG-2 or a VC-1 codec can be transcoded in real time via and watched on any device that supports DNLA, or on a mobile device via the included apps. Effectively, the DS214 Play can feed 1080p video to anything and everything from smart TVs to game consoles and everything in between.
Transcoding is done via a media server app installed through the DSM Synology Package Centre. Installing apps like this is relatively easy to do, and even novice users should be able to install the apps they want quickly. You can read more on the DSM Synology Package Centre in our previous review of the DS214.
As Synology hypes the DS214 Play’s functionalities as a media server, one bizarre omission is that of an HDMI port. While many of the DS 214’s competitors have HDMI connectivity, the omission of this port means that only Smart TVs and other devices with network connectivity can connect to it.
Like the DS214, the DS214 Play doesn’t ship with a hard drive. This makes comprehensive benchmarking of read and write speeds difficult, as there will be some variance and discrepencies depending on what drive the user has in NAS and the way they’ve set up their file system. During our testing with two Western Digital 1TB NAS hard disks set up using the default Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) file system, we saw an average read speed of approximately 101MB/sec and average write speeds of 90MB/sec.
The Synology Disk Station Management software
A bad OS makes a bad NAS. Luckily, we feel that the Synology DSM software is the best available. It is a Linux based system with a simple desktop style user interface. We could write a book on all the available features and apps that can be added according to the users needs. File synching, sharing, multimedia, cloud sync and sharing, backup, security, surveillance.. it’s all there. Since we are dealing with a home oriented unit, we’ll focus on the multimedia capabilities.
By going to the package center and selecting the multimedia, we get a nice list of different apps. The multimedia focused ones can be seen below.
The Synology Video Station is a fully featured app and tool for managing all your movies, TV Shows and home movies complete with a fully capable metadata function.. Search titles by name, or the director or the star. You can share content anywhere on almost any device, record TV, access subtitles and more.
The Synology Photostation is the app to use for sharing, organizing, editing and even blogging about your photos either at home or across the world.
Even in a home environment, security and backing up are vital. Terms such as ‘The Cloud’ are rapidly entering the mainstream computing sphere.. It is no longer the realm of the computer expert. Cloud based storage is becoming an integral feature of many different platforms. The DS214 Play comes with a full range of cloud sharing and backup options suitable for an extra level of data security or sharing with family, friends and colleagues. Most of the popular public cloud resources are available including Google Drive, Dropbox, MS OneDrive and Baidu. These options add another level to the data sharing and networking abilities of a NAS.
You can also backup your data to an external storage device. Just run the wizard, as shown below. Choose what you want to backup, choose the destination and you’re good to go. You can even setup a sync option if you choose.
Although a bit more technical, it’s also possible to backup using a service called iSCSI. This is a useful way to backup and send data over the internet. One option is to take a so called snapshot, which is a read only copy of the data.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what a quality NAS can do these days. If you go beyond a home media consumption focus to business use, then a whole other range of applications become available.
The DS214 Play is a speedy and versatile addition to the Synology family. The support for transcoding video, made possible through the much more powerful hardware than the DS214, means that 1080p HD video can be streamed to almost any device imaginable even if that device does not support the original codec.
What stops the DS214 Play from being a true home theatre PC (HTPC) replacement is the lack of HDMI connectivity. This is a minor issue, but nonetheless it excludes non smart TVs from connecting directly to the device. Also, considering that the DS214 Play does not include hard disks the asking price of $381.99 is rather high. Regardless because of the ease of use and transcoding features, the DS214 Play gets eight points out of 10.
Transcoding is smooth and seamless with virtually every DNLA device.
Faster than the DS214 thanks to the beefy hardware.
Excellent DSM software
Doesn’t include HDMI port.
Expensive considering hard drives aren’t included.