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Hardware

Geek Gifts 2009: Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender with DVD Player

Get multimedia anywhere in your home with the Linksys DMA 2200, but only if you have the bandwidth and the patience.

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2009.

The concept of a media center extender is understandable: take advantage of a wirelessly connected home to move multimedia from the PC to other appliances and display devices. Your Microsoft Windows Media Center PC becomes the multimedia server for your home. It sounds cool; all you need is what Microsoft has dubbed a media center extender appliance.

The Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender with DVD Player is one of these appliances. Once it is setup and configured, the DMA2200 will pull multimedia from your Media Center PC to a high-definition television. The promise is HD media from your PC, but the promise comes with a substantial amount of "ifs" that you should not ignore.

Specifications

  • Wi-Fi Standards: Draft dual band 802.11N, 802.11G, 802.11B (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz)
  • Security features: WEP, WPA, WPA2
  • Security key bits: 64, 128, 256
  • Number of Antennas: three antennas for 802.11N-DualBand 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
  • Ports: HDMI 1, 2, Component Video, Composite Video, S-Video, SPDIF RCA+Toslink, Stereo, Ethernet 10/100 connector, Power connector, USB port for Service purpose only, 3 Antennas
  • Dimensions: 9.09" x 4.92" x 12.95" (231 x 125 x 329 mm)
  • Requirements: Certified for Windows Vista or equivalent computer with Microsoft Vista Home Premium or Ultimate edition, Intel P4 2.4 GHz or higher or AMD equivalent, 1.0 GB of RAM, 100 Mbps Ethernet connection) with CD-ROM drive and Internet Connection
  • Cost: $350 on sale on Amazon
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What I like

  • Style: The Linksys DMA2200 looks good and will not interfere with the décor of most modern homes. The glossy black styling works well with the common flat-panel televisions.
  • Display: The image quality produced by the device is high definition and looks great on compatible television screen. The device itself is not the limiting factor when it comes to picture quality.
  • DVD Player: The built-in DVD Player is a fantastic addition for a media extender because sometimes you don't want to have to boot a PC just so you can watch a DVD. The player acts just like any DVD player, exhibiting the same qualities. The built-in player is neither better nor worse than a standard standalone DVD player.
  • Setup wizard: The setup wizard used by the DMA2200 made the configuration simple. The Media PC was seen right away and the initial connection was made and configured. The only problem was maintaining the connection.
  • Ports: The DMA2200 includes all of the standard video and audio ports as well as HDMI. Will all of these ports, it should be no trouble to find a connection cable that works with your television.

What I don't like

  • Clunky interface: I do not like the interface of Windows Media Center and that is the general interface used by the Linksys DMA2200. Clicking the navigation controls on a remote is just so inefficient and frustrating. This frustration is exacerbated by the slow response time of the DMA2200; clicks take a few seconds to respond, which means you often have to click the opposite navigation because you overshot your target.
  • Bandwidth requirements: While the DMA2200 promises HD video and audio, the reality is that unless you have a dual-band 802.11n router you will be receiving standard video and audio over a wireless connection. For a wired connection, you will need to be using 100Mbit speeds. If you don't have that much bandwidth you can expect dropped frames and pauses on just about everything you watch.
  • Dropped connections: In the three weeks I tested the DMA2200, I could count on the device to lose the connection to my media PC at least once a day. There was no explanation. Reconnecting was simple enough by just running the connection wizard, but it was darned frustrating.
  • Cost: The suggested retail price for the Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender with DVD Player is $450. Amazon has it on sale for $350. I think that is highway robbery. For the same $350 I could get a real computer to do the extending and get more control over the process and more consistency. The price should be more like $125 and even then I would not buy it, because the XBOX is now $199 and is a very capable extender.

Geek bottom line

The Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender with DVD Player does its job adequately as long as you have the highest wireless bandwidth available and don't mind having to reconnect to the Media PC at least once a day (always during a movie or show). But if you don't have the bandwidth coursing around your home, the DMA2200, especially at $350, is going to greatly disappoint you.

My best suggestion is that you hold off on buying any media extender until a more reliable and reasonably priced second generation of devices comes to market. A flat-panel television with Internet connectivity is likely a better choice. The Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender with DVD Player is just not ready for primetime yet.

Geek score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: *
  • Overall: *

About

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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