The home networking function, also called DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) for no really good reason, but it's basically networking to access media files on your PCs from the TV.
It's called DLNA for a very good reason. It's a group of manufacturers and developers, an "alliance," that works together to create interoperability guidelines for digital media devices connected across your network. Devices that comply can become certified and bear the DNLA logo, which assures customers that they can expect a certain level of compatibility and performance.
In that respect, it is no different than using the "DVD" logo on a piece of hardware to indicate to customers that it will play the family's entire DVD library, which is comforting because the collection almost certainly cost a small fortune.
This requires a klugy software called Samsung PC Share Manager to be installed on the networked computers, and for specific folders to be marked for sharing with the TV. It never worked with the review sample, even though the networked computers (running Windows 7, Vista or XP) could be seen by the TV.
The DLNA certification means that the TV should not require the Samsung PC Share Manager to be installed in order to take advantage of the features. Instead, you should be able to choose from a number of available applications. A crowd favorite amongst the Windows Home Server users is TwonkyMedia. In fact, a quick search over at the Twonky site shows that it specifically supports the UN55B7100.
This is what's really nice about DLNA. As long as you have DLNA certified devices (admittedely, the list is somewhat limited right now, but it's growing) you can run one DNLA program on your server box (or PC) and be done with it. There is no need to run a proprietary application for each piece of hardware you own. Obviously, this is assuming you're not stricly brand loyal, in which case you could probably get away with one program. However, as you've noticed first hand, the Samsung software isn't the greatest, and I have to say that I've never been impressed with software that came bundled with electronics.
For TVs or stereo receivers that are not DNLA certified, you can upgrade their capabilities by adding a DNLA approved product like the WD TV Live. DNLA then allows you to navigate your media library via the device or even push media to the device, and through your TV and/or stereo. Therefore, you could potentially use your laptop or smart phone as a remote control to play music or movies.
I'm currently in the process of setting up my home so that each room will have multi-media capabilities. So far I have a Dell Dimension 3000 tucked away running WHS, a mix of computers, and an Xbox 360 in the living room which can access files on my Mac and the server. Unfortuantely, I don't run MCE or Vista, so I'm not able to use the Media Center Extender feature on the Xbox. It's a shame, since it's more elegant than just scrolling through the filesystem like I do now. I'm currently shopping for a media adapter for the bedroom, and am leaning towards the WD TV Live because of it's ability to play my DVD ISOs and its DNLA certification.
Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm sick of spending more time trying to get things to work than I do actually enjoying the content. I just want to sit down, press a button, and have things work. From what I gather, DNLA can offer this.
I lurk a lot more than I post, so I am unable to post the links to the appropriate sites. A web search of DLNA should pull up their .org site, and a search for TwonkyMedia should pull up their TwonkyVision .de site.
Anyway, Mike, I enjoyed this review. Keep up the great work!