Dreambox DM100S £118
12th Mar 2009 | 09:30
The most affordable Dreambox is small, networkable and offers decent AV quality. So why is the DM100 disappointing?
In a radical departure from previous Dreamboxes, the DM100 is not Linux-based. Dream only provides service and support for the DM100 – which hasn't been engineered by the company. Dream seems to like small receivers, but if you've no need for hard disc recording, how about the DM100S?
The size of a VHS tape, it has to be one of the smallest digital receivers out there. Yet it supports DiSEqC, is networkable and has a built-in card reader. The card slot is only active if you're emulating a CAM.
Out of the box, the DM100 doesn't provide such emulation, but there are third-party firmwares that do. The only front-panel control is a standby button, and so you'll rely on the handset – similar to previous Dreambox handsets, only smaller.
Peering inside the enclosure reveals a neatly designed circuit board including a Sharp tuner and an STi Omega 5100 chipset backed up by 32MB of flash memory. Also inside is a mobile phone-like SIM which, we were told, contains various 'copy-protection' measures.
There's only one Scart, its output switchable between RGB, composite or component. A dedicated S-video output is also available on the rear panel, but you may need a Scart adapter to get the sound because there's no separate analogue audio output (an AC-3-ready optical digital is present), so a Scart S-video output option would have been a good idea. The single tuner's LNB input is accompanied by a loopthrough, but there are no UHF aerial connections. Finally, it has Ethernet and USB.
Setup and searching
Taking you through initial installation is a series of step-by-step 'wizards' that cover language, time-zone, satellite configuration and searching for channels. The setup menus also cover manual scanning, video setup, parental locks, Ethernet configuration and conditional access. Unlike with other Dreamboxes, you can't enter the original DiSEqC memory locations assigned to the motor by another receiver you might use. In addition to DiSEqC 1.2, the DM100 accommodates switchboxes (1.0/1.1) and 1.3/USALS motors.
Auto-scanning can take place on single or multiple transponders. You can specify FTA or all channels and network searching. Also supported are multiple satellite searches – unfortunately, on occasion, the DM100 starts searching before the dish has stopped so some of the lower frequency transponders are missed. When going from Sirius 4 (5°E) to Atlantic Bird 3 (5°W), for example, the first four of the latter's seven pre-programmed transponders were missed!
And more comprehensive searching? The good news is that a PID-entry mode is provided, in addition to frequency, symbol rate, polarity and FEC. A transponder editor, which helpfully shows you the channels carried on each, is also welcome. The bad news is that a blind search option isn't. Instead, it works through a transponder list, the same as a regular auto-scan. Third-party firmware will, it is hoped, add proper blind search.
You don't get the 'bouquets' (essentially comprehensive favourite channel lists) of higher-end Dreamboxes. The DM100 behaves more like a 'normal' receiver. Press 'enter', and the list of channels appears. The remote's coloured buttons access various ways of pinpointing channels – free/encrypted, alphabetic search and a handy 'find' function that homes in on the desired channel as you enter more of its name.
You can also place frequently accessed channels into one of the eight favourites lists which are accessed with a dedicated 'fav' button. Nice touches are the ability to select satellites directly and the 'history list', for revisiting previously viewed channels. Editing menus let you delete or rename channels on the favourites and regular channel databases.
The EPG is 'now-and-next' only, despite screenshots of something more useful in the manual. It has two modes: the 'daily guide' displays details of the presently selected channel's current or next programme, while the second mode lists the names of now-and-next programmes for up to four adjacent channels. The EPG can also schedule a single-event timer for external recordings. This cannot be modified manually – making it ultimately pointless.
A handful of gimmicks grace what is otherwise a basic receiver. In addition to a couple of games is a neat picture-in-picture facility. This allows you to select a channel and display it as a 'window' over another channel broadcast on the same transponder (this is, after all, only a single-tuner unit). You can also display two such channels side by side. Topping the lot is an ability to monitor either four or nine adjacent channels.
Performance and features
Sensitivity-wise, the DM100 managed to hold onto 'weak' services with surprising tenacity – we can report a fair degree of success from Thor (0.8°W) and Sirius 4 (5°E) on a 1m motorised dish and 0.8dB LNB.
Channel selection is reasonably fast, the user interface and menu system are also pleasantly responsive in use, while search speeds are more than adequate. Audio-visual quality is superb, and with the right source, pictures are detailed and dynamic with vivid colours. No lip-sync errors were noticed.
The USB port is provided solely for firmware upgrades – you can't connect external storage. Similarly, the Ethernet port offers no web interface, FTP, network firmware upgrading or streaming. A mail client is included, but it crashed our receiver.
The DM100 is also spoilt by some stupid bugs: Our Panasonic DVD recorder displayed an error message because it believed the source to be copy-protected when it wasn't. It would appear that the DM100's Macrovision signalling is being triggered accidentally. And on one occasion the receiver ran out of memory during a search. A check revealed that the receiver had stored a total of 4,444 channels (3,334 TV, 1,110 radio); far short of Dream's figure of 10,000 channels.