In these modern times of “clouds” and “streaming”, it can be easy to come to the conclusion that you don’t really need something as archaic as a network attached storage device.
But NAS devices are brilliant - honestly. At their most simple they’re a way to backup and share all of your media files and important documents with anyone on your home network, but a good one can do a heck of a lot more, from allowing remote access from anywhere in the world, to automating an extra level of cloud backup, to automatically downloading and sorting media files.
And if we’re talking good NAS devices, we have to talk about the Synology DS415play.
The “play” in the name should indicate that this is a NAS device with multimedia intentions, but it doesn’t mean this isn’t a serious bit of kit. For a start, it’s got four hard drive bays, which will seem overkill to the casual digital movie and music collector. Those people might want to take a look at the two-bay DS214play, but there are good reasons to go big from the outset.
Those four bays give you a current maximum storage capacity of a truly cavernous 24TB, if you fill them with 6TB drives (I’ve been using and been completely satisfied with Western Digital Red HDDs). More overkill? Well how about just putting in 2TB to start with, then adding another 2TB when that’s full, and so on until you’ve filled all four bays? That’s a much simpler and more cost-effective than replacing drives because you’ve run out of slots.
And Synology has some useful options for those who use multiple drives. It’s clever enough to be able to manage drives of different sized, for example, which is a rarity in the world of NAS. Your drives can be configured in clever RAID arrays, too, which means some storage is sacrificed so that all of the data on the NAS device is backed up internally - if one drive fails you haven’t lost anything.
Next-level media serving
So what are you going to do with all that storage? You’re going to fill it with music, videos and photos, I’ll wager, and when it comes to serving up that stored media the DS415play is something of a whizz.
For video there’s a built-in app called Video Station, which does a rather excellent job of sorting your media files and automatically downloading all of the metadata you might conceivably need. Download the partner DS Video app on your iOS, Android or Windows Phone device and you’ve got a really, really effective media streaming solution. DS Video is available on Roku streamers and Samsung TVs, too. Of course there are standard DLNA methods of streaming, and Plex fans will be pleased to see that’s supported, too, but Synology’s own streaming solution is the most simple, effective and elegant if you ask me.
DS Video even works when away from home. You need a solid internet connection, but I’ve watched episodes of Bob’s Burgers that are stored on my DS415play in London from a hotel room in San Diego. And yes, that did make me very happy.
Pretty much all of Synology’s DiskStation devices support this sort of video streaming, but what makes the DS415play special is that it supports real-time transcoding, so it can serve videos to devices even if they lack support for the specific video format. That can be very handy. It’s got the power to serve different videos to different devices simultaneously, too.
Compared to videos, music and photos are easy, and those are supported with their own Photo Station and Audio Station, as well as partner apps for your portables.
The Packages complete the package
It’s the breadth of these apps (or “packages” in Synology parlance) that makes a DiskStation a more advanced and more useful NAS than most rivals.
Everything’s accessed through the DSM interface, currently on version 5.1 and available through any browser (there’s even a mobile version) from anywhere in the world (thanks to a very simple remote access setup). It’s a brilliantly simple, user-friendly OS through which you can access the apps you’ve already installed, install more of them, check on the status of your storage or simply browse, move, upload or download files.
Hop into the Package Center and you’ll find all sorts of useful apps on top of the multimedia serving ones mentioned above. There’s Download Station, which can handle torrents while you’re at work or in bed, Surveillance Station that can manage IP cameras and store the footage they capture, Cloud Station for synchronising files and folders across DiskStations, computers and portable devices like your own personal Dropbox, plus numerous other apps for security, backup and media.
How do I use mine? All of the computers in my house are backed-up to the DS415play, which has a RAID array for internal back-up and also backs up everything to Amazon Glacier using the Glacier Backup app. Let’s just say my music and photos are safe. I also have it auto-sorting and auto-downloading media files, which are then seamlessly available through Sonos and Roku.
And if by some miracle there’s a use you can think of that’s not covered by the official packages, there’s a brilliant, active community of Synology users coming up with new and interesting apps all the time.
Synology DS415play Verdict
A NAS device can be a very useful thing. It can keep your most treasured data and files safe and it can centralise your media for playback all around the home and even outside it.
And if you go down the Synology route those things are done better than they are elsewhere, and you’ll be able to do a lot more besides.
For the average, casual media hoarder the DS214play is still probably the most sensible choice, but if you’ve got loads of media and a house full of people keen to devour it all around the house, the DS415play is worth the extra cost.