Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2200 review

£185
Price when reviewed

Microsoft’s decision to include its Media Center features in its standard Vista Home Premium OS dealt a blow to manufacturers of separate, entertainment PCs. Instead of having to buy or build a specific machine with a specific flavour of Windows, now even owners of the most humble of desktop machines can have them double up as home multimedia hubs.

Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2200 review

Manufacturers of networking equipment such as Linksys are hoping the future lies instead with Media Center Extenders. They aim to do away with the need to have a Vista-based PC near the TV by offering Media Center capabilities in a (relatively) dumb device.

The Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2200 is the second such device we’ve crossed paths with (the first being Microsoft’s Xbox 360) and, despite the fanfare it was launched to at CES earlier this year, we have to say we’re underwhelmed.

On the face of it, it’s a pretty exciting piece of technology with a list of specifications that put most other media streamers in the shade. Its tight integration with Vista means that, once set up, the experience you get on it is almost identical to that available on the host PC, including the ability to record and stream live TV, assuming you have a Vista Media Center-compatible TV tuner installed.

Well connected

Externally, this box looks as if it means business, too. Ranged along the back panel is a series of connections that’s unlikely to leave you wanting more: you get HDMI, component, composite, S-Video, coaxial and optical S/PDIF, an ethernet port, plus three aerials for Wi-Fi connection. On the front is a series of buttons for operating the DVD drive and (plasma TV owners will be happy to see) a fetching dot-matrix style display that lets you view settings and perform rudimentary music selections without having to switch on that big, power-hungry flat screen.

The DMA2200’s headline feature, however, is draft-n wireless which, in theory at least, means you can stream HD video from your Vista-equipped desktop PC without the need for wires – something that’s proved nigh-on impossible with 802.11g. In practice that claim proved to be based on solid foundations and in tests we managed to stream WMV files up to 1080p (downloaded from Microsoft’s HD Showcase website) with nary a single frame dropped at close range (1m).

A little further away, performance was just as impressive. We placed a laptop wired into a Linksys draft-n router five metres away with a partition wall in the way and playback was smooth and generally jitter free.

Moving 10m away and adding another partition wall, however, proved too much for the Linksys. Both 1080p and 720p files failed to play, which we weren’t too surprised at. But this caused a bigger problem: instead of merely refusing to play the files, the simple act of attempting playback without enough bandwidth caused the DMA2200 to crash entirely.

Dual band option

The Linksys is dual band, meaning it operates not only at 2.4GHz as with most domestic Wi-Fi devices, but also 5GHz. If you happen to have a dual band device already, and the requisite PCI cards or USB dongles for your PC, this may make the DMA2200 more attractive to you. The 5GHz spectrum is much emptier than 2.4GHz and is likely to get you more reliable, faster connections. But for now we can’t see too many people taking advantage of it as a router will set you back at least £130 – and that’s without a matching PC or laptop adapter.

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