Nick Beck is the guy in charge of drawing the schematics for Queensland Rail’s entire telecommunications network. He also studies Buliding Design at TAFE, has young family with his Fiancé — and is the second of two winners in our recent Synology NAS competition. Nick took the DS415play Media Centre through its paces and sent in this in-depth review.
I work on a computer every day using CAD programs. When I’m at home I do a fair bit of CAD work too, but mainly enjoy my home tech for media consumption along with my Fiancé. I play the occasional game on PC and Xbox 360, but not very often. My Fiancé spends a lot of time on her MacBook researching wedding ideas and things like that. We have two kids together, the youngest is 11 weeks old and the oldest is 2 and loves playing games and watching movies on our phones and tablets.
I’ve got a Windows Phone which is great for her as it has a Kid’s Corner which provides her with games but no internet. We’re currently building a house on a property we bought, so we’re living with my Fiancé’s Dad, his Fiancé and her 2 kids (16 & 18). They live in the house, we live in the shed.
I’ve built my own i7-3820 desktop and I use to use that as my main computer, but it’s in storage at the moment (there’s no room in the shed for it). It’s equipped with dual AMD graphics cards and runs 6 full HD monitors. I’ve also built my own HTPC which uses an i3 but has quad tuners and an AMD HD 7750 graphics card. It was designed to be quiet and power efficient and serves its purpose well. That sits in our shed hooked up to a monitor and serves as our current “lounge room entertainment.”
We don’t get any television reception where we’re living and we don’t get the best data reception either, so we rely heavily on the DVD store and our personal DVD collection stored on the DS213 NAS. I have the NAS and HTPC hooked up to a Cisco X3000, so we get gigabit transfers.
Perfect for first-time NAS (Network Attached Storage) users, the Synology DiskStation DS415play has FOUR hard drive bays supporting your own 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives — up to a massive 24TB total storage.
Slot in your hard drives, connect the DS415play to your network (via Ethernet or optional wireless dongle) and you’re set.
Enjoy your content across your computers, DLNA devices, TVs and mobile devices. With support for TV streaming across Samsung TVs, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast, the DS415play also makes it effortless to stream digital content to your big screen TV.
You can even sync files between Google Drive and Dropbox — plus use Synology’s mobile apps to access your multimedia collection and work files on the go. As a backup device, the DS415play also supports Windows Backup and Apple Time Machine.
I’ve used my NAS mainly for mass storage of our media and a way to access files over the network easily. It wasn’t until I started testing out the DS415play that I realised how much more it could really do. It has been great the past couple of years I’ve had it and hasn’t had a single problem.
I’m going to use the DS415play as our main NAS and use it for all our media needs from now on.
I used to use the other NAS just for storage and play videos directly from it, music from my computer, and I had an IP camera hooked up to my HTPC. Now, everything’s going to be stored on the NAS and played/recorded to the NAS. I’m even thinking about using it to record TV, then I won’t need to keep the HTPC running constantly. I will probably get a 4 or 8 bay USB 3.0 enclosure to plug into the DS415play for backup and run the DS213 from my parents place as another backup in a different location.
I’m going to enjoy a lot more movies and TV shows from the living room on our tablets thanks to the transcoding, rather than having to be in the shed (it’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer). The transcoding will also be great for my daughter as she’ll be able watch one of her movies down at the house with us rather than us having to be in the shed with her.
Out Of The Box
The Synology DS415play is a professional looking piece of equipment with a simplistic elegance about it. You can tell while opening the box and pulling out all the different parts that your money (RRP of $639) has been well spent on this NAS.
The case is plastic, but it still looks and feels nice. Synology seems to use a certain type of plastic in their products to emulate the texture of timber, which makes it just a little bit nicer than standard plastic. To me that goes a long way in pushing the semantics of professionalism to the consumer. The NAS itself is packed carefully to provide protection during transportation and comes with all the necessary parts to get started including a power brick and a Cat5e cable.
I installed four Seagate 2TB Barracuda hard drives, although the DS415play can currently handle up to 6TB drives to get a total of 24TB out of the beast. Installation was very simple, there is a large front cover hiding the four HDD bays which pops off. The individual trays slide out and have a couple of side covers that pop off to reveal the screw holes for the hard drives. The hard drives are simply placed onto the trays, then the side covers pop back on to hold them in place. The trays slide back in and click into place once they have been connected to the SATA ports. This means installation is entirely tool free. Synology also provide HDD screws in case you’re installing 2.5-inch hard drives.
Setup was incredibly simple, connect the Synology DS415play to power and a router, and then log onto the network via a computer and type in find.synology.com which takes you to the login screen of your NAS. There’s a basic setup wizard which installs the DiskStation Manager (DSM5.1 currently) then prompts for basic setting up. With the DS415play you have a lot of options on how you want your hard drives to work. DSM recommends using Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) which automatically configures your hard drives to provide redundancy with the most amount of storage available.
I did this to start with and got 5.4TB of storage available with one of my disks used for redundancy. You also have the options of RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, basic and JBOD. I eventually chose the JBOD array based on my circumstances as I didn’t want to waste any space. I plan on doing backups on my other NAS for now, so redundancy isn’t a concern for me.
I connected my DiskStation into a Cisco Linksys X3000 using Cat6 cables so I got gigabit speeds between both DiskStations and my computer, although only Wireless-N speeds for connecting to oury mobile devices. Transfer speeds were acceptable, I initially did a large transfer of data from my old NAS to the new one and got an average speed of 450Mbit/s, although the transfer speed initially started off around 600Mbit/s. Even during the initial data transfer, the NAS was extremely quiet, in fact I couldn’t hear it over my HTPC which I designed specifically to be quiet.
The unit also seemed to keep quite cool during maximum use. There is a setting with the DSM to have the two fans running the system cool or quiet. The quiet setting seems to work fine, but it’s good to have the cool option there when the system is running intensively.
Connecting my devices to the NAS was incredibly easy using Synology’s QuickConnect. It allows you to type in the name of your NAS in order to connect to it, instead of using an IP Address or having to configure DDNS. As long as the DS415play is connected to the internet, it can be accessed by typing http://quickconnect.to/[NASName] into a browser and you will get the full functionality of DSM.
Using It: Transcoding
The main draw of the “play” series NASs from Synology (there’s also a DS214play) is the ability to transcode videos at 1080p on-the-fly. This is extremely useful when you want to watch a movie on a device that either does not support the file type or isn’t powerful enough to play the movie smoothly.
I initially tried playing a movie using Synology’s Video Station on an iPad 3 and wasn’t too impressed with the quality, that was until I found out I had to enable transcoding from DSM. As with a lot of things on the DiskStation Manager, this is disabled by default. After I enabled the transcoding, I was extremely happy with the quality of video I got. There are a few restrictions with the transcoding unfortunately. The DS415play will transcode DVD quality perfectly fine, but when I tried testing Blu-ray quality movies, it could not handle the bitrate. The movies would play, but only show 1 second of pixelated video followed by 3 seconds of buffering. This was unfortunate, but I half expected that to happen considering I try to keep my Blu-ray movies in the highest quality possible. On average these movies are 25GB in size.
Another restriction with the transcoding on the DS415play is it does not support DTS audio. That means a lot of my movies (MKV files) won’t play at all.
These restrictions are annoying, but there are workarounds. As I’ll be playing most of my movies through my HTPC, the bitrate and audio codec restriction won’t matter. If I did want to play them on a portable device though, then I’d have to “pre-transcode” them. There are lots of programs out there that will do a batch transcode.
Photo Station, Video Station & Audio Station
Synology have created some great programs to work with its DiskStation Manager. The three most used programs are Photo Station, Video Station and Audio Station. These are simple yet powerful, but above all, very user friendly to browse through and play your media collection, mainly to be used in conjunction with their respective mobile apps.
Photo Station is a basic program that allows you to view all the photos that are on your NAS, but you can also create new folders and organise your photos from within it. It also has a useful option to upload photos to the NAS from various sources such as your computer and then you can create a link to share the photos, either by sending the link itself or by uploading through one of the many social networks.
Video Station has been designed excellently with the ability to search the internet for information about all your movies and TV shows on the DS415play. The information will be searched for and added automatically, but probably not to all your movies. For movies or TV shows that are missed, you can edit the information manually, or search for it using different keywords. TV shows are organised automatically into their season and episode number. This may require adjusting the file names.
For example, all my shows were originally named [TVShowName]-[2 digit season number][2 digit episode number]-[EpisodeName]. Keeping the format like that meant Video Station only found one episode of each TV Show, whereas adding an ‘S’ in front of the season number and an ‘E’ in front of the episode number meant Video Station could organise all the episodes properly. The TV Shows can be renamed using a batch process with software like IrfanView, so don’t worry if your naming isn’t correct. Surprisingly, Video Station allows you to share movies and TV shows online, once again by creating a link to send to friends or post on social networks.
Audio Station is what you would expect. It’s simple, but you can organise your music by album, artist, etc. and create folders. You can also create playlists and adjust user’s privileges from inside the program.
The Synology DS415play has the ability to act as a DLNA server, so you can stream music and video directly to other DLNA devices such as an Apple TV or a Chromecast. I tested this out on my Xbox 360 and it seems to work well. The video is a bit grainy, but other than that it seems like a good solution to get your media onto your TV. I’d imagine the quality would be better on a newer device, unfortunately I didn’t have one to test it out on.
I personally won’t be using the NAS as a media server as I’ll be playing all the files through my HTPC, but for anyone with a smart TV or Chromecast, this works extremely well and would be perfectly suited to them.
All up, the DS415play handles your media well. As I said, there are some restrictions however they can be easily worked around.
Data Backup & Personal Cloud Sync
As a ‘Network Attached Storage’ system, the DS415play can easily backup your computer files via drag and drop, but Synology have provided an app called Cloud Station which is quite powerful.
Cloud Station is not exactly a backup solution, but it can definitely be used as one. It is as it states, a personal cloud. This needs to work in conjunction with a companion program installed on a PC and allows specific folders & files to be synchronised with the NAS. I tested this out by backing up a music folder I had. Cloud Station minimised into the ‘quick access’ toolbar and backed up the folder in the background. You can see its current progress by clicking on the icon, or change the settings, etc. As I said, this is more of a personal cloud than a backup solution, so it will sync everything you do on the computer and will even add a little icon to the bottoms of folders that are currently synced to Cloud Station so you know it’s backed up. If you delete a file in a synced folder, it will delete it off the NAS, same thing happens if you add files to the folder.
Cloud Station is something I will use from now on to backup my computer. The fact that it syncs rather than does backups is not a concern as you can set Cloud Station to save multiple versions of your files. Therefore, if you make a mistake in a file and save it, it will sync to the NAS, but you can restore it to the previous version. The same thing happens if a file accidentally gets deleted. I use a similar system at my job and it’s invaluable, it has saved me a lot of work. Of course, the more variations it saves of files, the more space it will take up, but for general Word and Excel files this won’t be a concern.
QuickConnect Remote Access
As I stated earlier, QuickConnect allows you to access your Synology DS415play using an ID designated by you so there is no need to worry about DDNS setup. QuickConnect also allows the same simplicity when accessing the NAS over the internet. Type http://quickconnect.to/[NASName] into a browser and your NAS will pop up. Log in as you normally would and you’ll be presented with your familiar home screen on the DSM. There is full functionality of everything, the only difference between using Remote Access and accessing the NAS on the LAN is the speed. Obviously it’s going to run slower going through the internet and is more prone to drop outs, but the ability to configure your NAS from anywhere is pretty amazing.
General File Sharing
There are a few different methods of sharing files between users. The most common way is to have Shared Folders which can then be mapped as a local drive on a PC. These folders will then work like any other folder on your computer and can be copied from and pasted to. This is the method I’ve used in the past and allows the folders to be integrated easily into things such as Windows Media Centre.
Another method is to access and organise the files via the DSM or one of its many companion apps. From within the DSM, files can be uploaded and moved between different folders, these can then be shared with other people or users. You can also set permissions for different users to allow read only access or no access.
File Station is another well designed program. You have the ability to create shared folders as well as ordinary folders. Some of the shared folders are created and named by default by other programs such as Video Station. Unfortunately these can’t be moved or renamed, otherwise the mobile apps won’t be able to find the files. Other than that, you have a lot of control over all the files and organisation. Each shared folder also has the ability to have a recycle bin. This works just like the recycle bin on a PC. If you delete something, it will just be moved to the bin and can be restored if needed. An emptying schedule can be set up for it, so you won’t waste too much space.
Synology Mobile Apps
The Synology mobile apps really take advantage of the DS415play’s transcoding ability. It doesn’t matter what device you’re using, you’ll be able to watch all your movies via the DS Video app (if its bitrate is low enough and doesn’t use DTS audio). All the apps are very clean and straightforward. DS Video shows pre-downloaded information about each movie or TV Show and splits videos up into categories.
Depending on which video you want to watch, you’ll get a few options to pick from before it commences playing including which file type (if there are multiple file types of the same video), which audio track to use and which subtitles, if any, to use.
The same simplicity is included in the DS Audio app. Music can be browsed via artist, album, etc., recently added music can be viewed and you can select from pre-defined playlists. DS Photo+ is very straightforward again, but organised in the folder structure you choose. I did have trouble initially displaying some of my photos, until I realised the files were about 500MB each. The app would have to download the complete file before it can render a thumbnail even, but most files would be a lot less than that. DS Photo+ takes a while on first use to download previews of every photo, but it seems to save these thumbnails for speedy access later on.
DS File is an excellent app for searching through all your files on the NAS. In the iOS version, it allows you to play files directly from the app using third party apps or the built-in DS File Player. In the Windows Phone version, it has to be downloaded first, but the file can always be streamed via the other DS apps.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, I would highly recommend this product. The Synology DS415play NAS is a fantastic product for media consumption.
The ability to transcode in full HD on-the-fly really puts this product a cut above the rest. With any other NAS, you really can’t watch movies smoothly on portable devices, but the DS415play provides that flexibility. I was extremely happy with the simplicity of setting everything up, especially using the QuickConnect function. This makes the NAS perfectly suited for consumers that don’t know a whole lot about networking (a bit like myself). There were a few things that required using the help section or doing a bit of googling, but considering what the DiskStation can do, I expected it would have been more trouble than it was to set up.
I have experimented a lot in the past with making our media easy to access for the family, but as soon as something doesn’t work as expected, they think it doesn’t work at all. They don’t want to have to mess around with settings themselves. The DS415play isn’t like that. My family loves it, it’s easy for them to use and I haven’t heard a single complaint about it yet!
I would recommend this product to anyone who wants to centralise their media library and want the ability to play their media on portable devices too. The transcoding really is a stand out, but if you don’t need it, there are lots of other Synology NASs that will do the job. I think the Synology DS415play is especially useful for anyone with children, as it allows the kids to enjoy their favourite movies on their mobile device leaving the lounge room free for the parents. For the RRP of $639, the Synology DS415play is definitely worth the money.