Synology DS216play Review

Manufacturer: Synology
UK Price (as reviewed)
£203.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $299.99 (ex Tax)

The relentless march that Synology undertakes with its NAS enclosures is an enviable one, as is its prowess in creating feature-packed and more importantly easy-to-use operating systems that strike a balance that few other NAS manufacturers match. Physically, not a lot has changed in the last few years though, and this is possibly one area where we would like to see a little improvement; for instance noise reduction could certainly be improved - mainly hard disk noise as Synology's enclosures already use large 92mm fans that are pretty much the quietest around.

This holds true with the new DS216play that we're looking at today. At £204, it sits between Synology's basic models and the usual 'plus' series in terms of price, and of course they all use the same OS in the form of its DSM interface, with the current version standing at 5.2 and DSM 6 currently in beta form. However, rather than DSM tweaks being the headline feature for what is otherwise a fairly basic hardware upgrade from the DS214play, the DS216play is the first NAS from Synology we've seen to drop the dreaded '4K' characters into the specifications next to transcoding.

Synology DS216play Review Synology DS216play Review
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It's a hot topic with NAS and not just at 4K due to the power needed for on-the-fly transcoding, even at 1080p. With media servers such as Plex and Synology's own Video Station proving very popular, it's pretty synonymous with NAS these days as we seek to dish out our content to countless different devices in different formats and resolutions. Of course, to be able to do this within the tight power confines of a two-bay NAS, its hardware-based transcoding that we're dealing with here, and that inherently means that things aren't quite as flexible as you might find on a desktop PC with plenty of grunt.

In fact, Synology has only listed its own Video Station app as being able to tap into this power and transcode H.265/HVEC, not least of all because thanks to the use of an STiH412 Monaco Ultra ARM-based dual-core CPU, Plex may not end up being supported and it's certainly not available in Synology's Package Centre, as it is for the DS214play and most of Synology's other NAS enclosures. In addition, Plex will also be unable to take advantage of the Faroudja transcoding engine - a lot will depend on which software you use, but even with Synology's own Video Station streaming app, there are some limitations as you approach 4K:

Any container or file extension in 4K 2160p (3840 x 2160) with codecs H.265 (HEVC), and in 1080p with codecs H.265 (HEVC), H.264 (AVC), MPEG-4 Part 2 (XVID, DIVX5), MPEG-2, and VC-1 can be transcoded up to 1080p by Synology DS216play.. The maximum supported frame rate per second (FPS) is 30. These containers can be MKV, MP4, AVI, TS, MPG, WMV and more. However, these containers/file extensions might come in codecs other than the four mentioned. In that case, videos cannot be transcoded to 1080p.

For the full list of the DS216play's transcoding capabilities, head over to Synology's website.

Interestingly, the unit isn't set up to deal with 4K video out of the box. A message popped up on our iPhone 6 about a requirement to switch the memory layout in Control Panel, and sure enough, by default the unit is limited to 1080p transcoding - dealing with 4K video files needs a dedicated block of memory to be assigned to the task. During the transcode of a 3,840 x 2,160 30fps H.265/HEVC, the CPU usage peaked at 84 percent and the memory usage hovered around 50 percent, up from around 35 percent - the resulting playback was smooth but that's quite a toll to take on the system for the duration of a 4K film viewing if you're asking it to perform other demanding tasks concurrently.

Synology DS216play Review Synology DS216play Review
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However, there are possibly not that many scenarios where you'd need to transcode a 4K movie anyway - transcoding isn't supported over DLNA and the likes of Chromecast will likely support streaming the original video. It's on mobile devices that you may need to tap into the power of the transcoding engine using Video Station, but if you're grabbing content solely for mobile use, you'd likely want to use 1080p anyway. The exception would be if you just want a single version of a video file for playback on your 4K TV as well as mobile devices - in this case it would make sense to transcode that file, rather than have a 1080p version stored on the NAS too, although that's basically what the DS216play will offer in DSM 6.0 with a new version of Video Station set to include offline transcoding.

Back to the NAS itself, and the DS216play is pretty standard as far as Synology NAS enclosures go and apart from the black colour scheme, it sports similar features to the new DS216se as well. They both lack hot-swappable drive bays as you'd expect to see on premium models such as the current DS215+, while there's no flash card reader or USB copy button. There are two USB ports - one USB 2 and one USB 3, on the rear of the device though, and these support USB speakers, hubs and flash card readers, and that's pretty much it.

In addition to the dual-core 1.5GHz CPU and dedicated transcoding engine, you get 1GB DDR3 RAM, and the ability to support up to two 8TB hard disks, with both 2.5in or 3.5in drives compatible too. Noise and power consumption figures have apparently fallen from its predecessor - the DS214play - and now stand at a claimed 18.5 dBA versus 19.8 dBA and 15.08W while being accessed compared to 20.12W.

Rather than run through DSM 5.2 again, as the OS has only undergone minor tweaks since we looked at the DS715 (these may impact on performance however), we'll point you at that review for a few specifics on the key changes and improvements compared to the initial release of DSM 5.0.

Specifications

  • Local connections Front: None, Rear: 1 x USB 3, 1 x USB 2, 1 x LAN
  • Network connections 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • Storage Up to 2 x 8TB hard disk (not included)
  • Cables 1.5m Cat 5 Ethernet,
  • Cooling1 x 92mm fan
  • Features Hardware Transcoding Engine (H.265 (HEVC), MPEG-4 Part 2, MPEG-2, VC-1, Maximum resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160), Maximum FPS: 30), FTP server, Print, webserver, independent download (via HTTP, FTP and BitTorrent), iTunes and UPnP media sever, DLNA, storage server, photo server, video server, external USB hard disk support, surveillance server, Cloud server.
  • Dimensions (W x D x H) 100mm x 225.5mm x 165mm
  • Accessories None

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