The KiSS DP-500

The KiSS DP-500 is in the dedicated appliance category. Basically, the DP-500 combines a basic DVD/CD/MP3 player, a DivX decoder, and a network interface to create a nice, dedicated, media hub. When combined with server software running on your PC, the KiSS has the following notable capabilities:

  • Playback of DivX encoded video across the network (or from your CD or DVD)
  • Playback of MP3 files across your network
  • Browsing through JPG format photos across the network
  • Access to Internet radio stations using the Shoutcast format

In addition, there is a fairly active KiSS user community, which provides a lot of peer-level help.

The KiSS DP-500

I was pretty excited when KiSS announced the DP-500, and quickly worked to get my hands on one. This machine does not have much distribution in the US right now, so you will have to work a bit to find one, but armed with Google and a credit card you should be in business soon.

The KiSS box installs in your media environment exactly as a DVD player would, with the additional requirement of adding a network connection. No wireless support is built into the box, but I had success in both a wired configuration and using a wireless bridge.

KiSS uses a Linux kernel in their box, so it would be plausible to use SMB to access files directly from my Windows host, but unfortunately they did not take this avenue. So instead, you have to install a piece of software on your Windows server that feeds files of all kinds to the Kiss player. This PC-Link software is incredibly feature devoid, offering virtually nothing in the way of help for organization and categorization of media.

PC-Link software

On the plus side, since PC-Link has little to do except pump bytes out onto the network, it coexists with your other server-side applications pretty well. It would have been nice had it been installable as a service, so you don’t have to log in to your PC to activate it. Better yet, it would have been nice to be written in Java, so it wasn’t tied to Windows servers. However, there are a few third-party replacements

The KiSS Main Menu

Playing DivX videos on the KiSS player couldn’t be simpler. From the main menu you select the Video menu, then you are presented with a list of Videos from your server. Pick the one you want to see, and it starts playing on your TV just as if you were watching a DVD.

The KiSS Video Menu

There isn’t much you can do while watching a DivX video on the Kiss machine. The biggest headache is the fact that you can’t set bookmarks – so if you want to switch between programs, you had better write down the current time in the video. And although you can get a static on-screen display of info about the current video, you don’t get an on-screen view of the current position, so you need to pick that up off the front panel.

The KiSS video info screen

All in all, KiSS gives you a pretty good experience, and makes the home video jukebox a reality. But that doesn’t mean the experience is perfect. There are some pretty big problems with KiSS, and they are bad enough that they mean I can only recommend this device with some serious reservations.

The first big problem with the KiSS player is its stunning lack of features. This is a very bare-bones experience, and it is going to hamper your ability to enjoy the sysytem. Critical features that are missing in network play include:

  • Decent browsing features for movies – no hierarchies, sorting, thumbnails, etc. You had better be happy looking at a single continuous list of movies.
  • Bookmarks or other way to save your current position within a movie.
  • The ability to retard or advance the audio track when synch problems crop up.
  • More than rudimentary subtitle support.
  • Aspect ratio and screen position adjustments of a movie as it is being played.

As an example of the poorly implemented UI, you only have one way to navigate through a list of videos: pushing the up and down button on your controller. If you have 100 videos, and you want to watch number 100, you get to push the down button 99 times. That’s right, there’s no page down feature, and there’s no repeat on the remote control.

Naturally, there are similar lists of missing features for the music and photo features as well, but those are topics for another article.

The second big problem with the KiSS player is simple: firmware bugs. For a product that has been out for close to year, and is up to version 2.7.4 of its firmware, this is a pretty unstable product.

My KiSS player has lots of annoying little habits, such as powering down in the middle of a movie, falling apart when asked to fast forward or fast reverse, locking up when navigating menus too quickly. Menus sometimes break, items disappear, and other inexplicable problems crop up. KiSS tech support was not helpful when it comes to these problems. Just as an example, when I describe the exact process by which I make a DivX file, I would expect the support crew there to be able to comment on whether that file could in fact be played by the KiSS DP-500. But no such luck – they say that they can’t help with encoding problems.

So how can you know if a stream is valid for your KiSS player? Apparently you try to play it, and if the box crashes, it’s not valid! This is another bone of contention on my part. I would think that a polished product would display some sort of error message when confronted with input it doesn’t like. That might help the debug process a bit, don’t you think?

KiSS is ambitious, and has a neat product. I’m confident that in 2004 somebody will market a similar product that is rock-solid, does what it is supposed to do, and take KiSS’s market away from them.