It's expensive, but this 4-bay NAS is quick and will transcode media on the fly
Capacity: Enclosure only, 3.5″ hard disk bays (free): 4(4), Networking: 1x 10/100/1000, DLNA media server: Yes, Print server: Yes, Dimensions (WxHxD): 203x165x233.2mm, Weight: 2.03kg
Last year’s media-focused Synology DS214play was a resounding success in our tests, with its powerful processor able to transcode video on the fly to stream them to devices that would otherwise not able to play them. This ability returns with the DS415play, although the version we’re testing has double the number of drive bays, which could make it the ultimate media server for anyone with a vast library.
Our DS415play came as an enclosure without disks, as usual with Synology NAS drives, so we used four 3TB WD Red NAS disks for our tests. Fitting disks is easy: you remove the front panel, push a lever and pull on the handle at the front of each caddy to slide them out. You don’t need tools to fit 3.5in disks, but you’ll need a screwdriver if you’re fitting 2.5in disks.
In typical Synology style, the DS415play is a plain but handsome-looking device. It’s larger than some 4-bay enclosures, but you get the more ports you’d expect from a NAS. These include three USB2 ports – one on the front and two at the back – and a pair of high-speed USB3 ports on the rear. A pair of cooling fans output hot air at the rear of the case, so you’ll want to make sure there is ample space behind the NAS to ensure peak performance.
On-the-fly video and audio transcoding is where this device should excel, thanks to its dual-core, 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. This ability is important for those with large and varied media libraries using media centre applications that can’t open all types of files. MKV video files, for example, can prove tricky for machines running Windows, as well as Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games consoles. In order to make this function work you have to download the Media Station application for your NAS and then enable transcoding. You can add any file extension you want to the list of file types that will be transcoded, so you should be able to get any common format to work with your chosen streaming device.
We tried streaming various full-HD 1080p MKV files to Windows Media Player, a Playstation 3 and a Samsung Smart TV. Normally, none of these would be able to play MKV files, but the Synology recognised this and began transcoding the files with very little delay. Once playing there were no artefacts and no out-of-sync audio that you can sometimes get when converting video, although because the videos are only converted as they’re needed, you won’t be able to skip to a later point in the video until it has been converted and streamed.
As is common with unusual media formats, there were some files that simply didn’t work no matter what we tried, although they were in the minority. You’ll be pushing the dual-core Intel Atom processor pretty hard if you try to play two videos that require encoding on two different devices; we were able to successfully do this once but when we tried it again with different files we ran into stuttering, audio glitches and digital artefacts, so we’d recommend only transcoding one video at a time. There’s no HDMI port on the DS415play, which means you won’t be able to output video directly from the NAS into a TV, but if your TV is network-enabled, this shouldn’t be a major issue. The DS415play can be used as more than just a media server.
As with other Synology NAS devices, it runs on the DSM5 operating system, an excellent OS with a desktop-style user interface that runs in your web browser. From there you can configure every aspect of the NAS including backups, file shares, and you also get add extra features by downloading new apps from the excellent Package Center. This app store includes apps developed by Synology as well as third-party software. The in-house services include Cloud Station, which lets you use your NAS for Dropbox-style cloud storage, a mail server service, as well as the IP camera security suite Surveillance Center. To use more than two cameras with this tool you will need to pay for this service.
Third-party apps extend the use of the NAS even further, with content management systems such as Drupal, WordPress and Joomla. There are third-party media server apps as well, including Plex, Logitech Media Server and an iTunes Server tool as well. Package Station has the most complete selection of applications of all the major NAS manufacturers.
In our file transfer tests we recorded blazingly fast speeds. In Synology’s own Hybrid RAID configuration, which allows for the failure of one disk without losing your data, the DS415play achieved large file write speed of 97.35MB/s and a read speed of 96.73MB/s. More challenging, smaller files were a little slower than we would have expected, but 14MB/s write and 16.2MB/s read speeds are still faster than many other NAS devices around this price range.
The Synology DS415play is a fantastic, albeit expensive 4-bay NAS. Nonetheless, its processing performance is impressive even if you’re not planning on encoding videos on the fly, and its file transfer speeds are equally great. If you don’t need four bays, though, you can save more than £100 by buying the two-bay DS214play, which has the same processor, and similar performance.
|Default file system||EXT4|
|File attribute support||Yes|
|Price per gigabyte||N/A|
|Hard disk interface||SATA2|
|3.5″ hard disk bays (free)||4(4)|
|RAID modes||JBOD, Synology Hybrid RAID, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10|
|Front USB ports||1x USB2|
|Rear USB ports||2x USB3, 2xUSB2|
|Universal Plug and Play||Yes|
|DLNA media server||Yes|
|USB disk server||Yes|
|Mac file sharing||Yes|
|Other services||DHCP server, remote access, media transcoding|