By Bill Snyder | Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 5:10 pm
At first glance, HP’s new DreamScreen looks a lot like a garden-variety digital picture frame. When I mentioned that to an HP product manager he got pretty defensive. But he had a point: Despite some built-in limitations, the DreamScreen goes well beyond the digital picture frame. It plays Web radio, streams music and pictures from your PC (Macs are not supported), and allows you to access (but not modify) Facebook or Snapfish pages. It also lets you play video–but sadly, not streaming video–works as an alarm clock, a calendar and gives quick access to a weather page.
The DreamScreen comes in two sizes and two prices. The DreamScreen 100, which I tested, is 10.2 inches, and sells for $249. The larger DreamScreen 130 is 13.3 inches along the diagonal and will sell (it will be available later in the fall) for $299.
HP has done a fairly good job with the hardware. The screen is bright, the frame is an attractive piano black, and the built-in speakers aren’t bad, though if you play a lot of music you’ll want to connect real speakers to a port on the back. The device comes with a small remote and can also be controlled via virtual buttons on the frame. A handy slot in the back holds the remote when not in use. And HP thoughtfully put a rubber boot on the end of the stand so it won’t scratch the dining room table.
Although navigation is reasonably simple, it would be much, much easier with a touchscreen. Entering passwords, user names and the like with a remote can be frustratingly slow, although some of the work can be done on your PC using a utility that comes with the device. Future iterations of the DreamScreen may come with a touchscreen, or possibly a Blackberry-like external keyboard on the remote, HP told me.
I was able to set up the device pretty quickly, and had no trouble getting it on my home Wi-Fi network. However, getting it to stream files from my laptop was tricky; ultimately I got it to work by tweaking settings in my firewall. Alternatively, you can copy digital content onto the DreamScreen using a USB drive, a direct Ethernet connection, or several types of memory cards. But with only 2GB of built-in storage, you’ll run out of room pretty quickly.
As you’d expect, the DreamScreen supports most common digital photo, video, and music formats, including unprotected AAC tracks from iTunes. However, songs you downloaded from iTunes prior to 2009 are still copy protected and won’t play on the DreamScreen. But that’s Apple’s fault, not HP’s.
Would I buy it? It seems a bit pricey for what it does; after all it costs more than an iPhone. But being able to play Web radio or stream my music and photo collection into the living room is a pleasure.