Network Attached Storage (NAS) is probably not the first thing you think about when you consider your home-entertainment system, but at least one company intends to change that: QNAP. QNAP has offered HDMI output and a 10-foot user interface (so you can operate it from the comfort of your couch) for a year or two on their mainstream NAS boxes. Now it's added the quiet operation and style to attract less-technical users. It has mostly succeeded in that effort.
Where the average NAS box is rather unhandsome and stands upright, making it stand out like a sore thumb next to your other gear, the HS-251 is sleek and horizontally oriented. It houses two 3.5-inch drive bays that lay flat and side by side, with metal drive trays that come in contact with the metal part of the case to act as heat sinks. They're accessed via a black magnetic panel pops offs the front. The whole effect of the 1.5-inch high by 12-inch wide by 8.75-inch deep unit is something akin to a modern set-top box. And there are no fans whirring to distract you from the latest Hollywood epic.
This isn't your IT department's NAS box
The HS-251's real value lies in its QTS 4.1 operating system and apps. It's a custom version of Linux with nearly every capability that has been developed for platform. The short list of multimedia-related features includes media streaming from DLNA and iTunes servers; the XBMC 10-foot interface for live TV as well as photo and video streaming; a built-in BitTorrent client; real-time or offline media transcoding of nearly any video format; support for 4K video resolution; and access to online video services such as YouTube.
QNAP provides a framework called HD Station (the acronym stands for HybridDesk, not High-Def) that is accessed when you have a display attached directly to the HDMI port. That's where you'll find XBMC, the 10n-foot interface that provides video, music, and photo playback capabilities mimicking those found in consumer video equipment. But first you have to set everything up via the Web interface, and that's not for everyone. Enable HD Station, download the apps, etc. It's not dead simple.
The HS-251 ships without drives, so you'll need to decide what to put inside it. I've run the HS-210, the HS-251's nearly identical predecessor, with 3.5-inch hard drives, 2.5-inch hard drives, and 2.5-inch SSDs. SSDs are obviously the fastest solution, but read speed isn't all that important when you're streaming music and video. Hard drives are slower, but they deliver a lot more capacity for the money. If you go that route, I highly recommend using 2.5-inch drives. They run cooler, and in most instances, they're considerably quieter.
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