Buffalo LinkTheater review

Price when reviewed

There’s no doubt that going digital is inevitable. With the increasing number of legal ways to acquire music and video over the Internet, it’s only a matter of time before practically every film, album and music video ever released will be available online in some form. But you don’t want it all stuck on your main PC.

Buffalo LinkTheater review

While Microsoft and many others are trying to persuade us that we need a PC in our living rooms, it isn’t the only option. Like Roku’s SoundBridge (above), Buffalo’s LinkTheater fills the gap: essentially a DVD player that also streams media across a wired or wireless network to your TV.

There’s impressive support for a range of formats – vital if you’re a digital media magpie – ranging from XviD to DivX (currently being touted as ‘the MP3 of video’), to high-definition standards such as WMV-HD and DivX HD. On the audio side, it’s happy playing just about anything, including OGG, AAC formats and Microsoft DRM-protected files.

If you’ve got something in an unsupported codec then, as long as you’ve got the codec to play it on the PC you’re streaming from, the server software can be configured to re-encode it to a compatible format. A useful option, but it failed to work with some files.

If you have a compatible Buffalo router, you can use the proprietary AOSS system to join an existing network; otherwise, it’s a case of adjusting the settings through the unit’s options screen. Like the SoundBridge, the LinkTheater is a UPnP device, although there’s also a separate server application included. In terms of output, you’ll find composite, S-Video and component video outputs on the unit itself, plus a scart connector included in the box. Audio is handled by coaxial and optical S/PDIF out, as well as standard analog RCA phono sockets, supporting 5.1 audio and digital DTS passthrough.

The LinkTheater’s HTTP-based homepage will show a list of available servers, plus the optical drive. There’s also a USB port on the front that will read any standard mass-storage device and include this in the list – we had no problems reading from external hard disks, USB flash drives and various MP3 players.

The interface itself, with its chunky remote control, doesn’t have anywhere near the slickness or maturity of something like Microsoft’s Windows Media Center Edition, but then it costs a fraction as much. We didn’t find the current version of the firmware stable either – ‘page not found’ errors occurred even over a wired network. But our biggest problem was the poor wireless range – where a notebook would report good signal strength, the LinkTheater failed to pick it up at all – and there’s no signal-strength indicator, making the process of connecting a tedious trial-and-error affair. Disappointingly, there’s no external aerial included as standard, although there’s provision for one via a connector underneath the chassis.

On the positive side, the only moving part is the optical drive (and that’s whisper-quiet) and it certainly looks and feels the part for the domestic environment. If your nearest wireless access point is a few walls away, hold onto your receipt just in case the LinkTheater won’t connect, but it’s the best-value way we’ve yet seen to bring your media into the living room.

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