Shout at the Devil
Dual-band 1080p streaming with built-in DVD player; wide format support.
The Devil Wears Prada
Vista-only; not much reason to pick one of these over an Xbox 360.
We’ve been waiting for media-streaming devices to catch up to 802.11n, and the Linksys DMA2200 does it in style—geek style, that is. The box isn’t particularly attractive, but we dig the dual-band Wi-Fi radio inside that’s capable of operating on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency bands.
We also appreciate the built-in DVD player that’s capable of scaling our standard-def DVDs to 1080i. (Linksys’s DMA2100, the same hardware sans optical drive, sells for $300.) We tested the DMA2200 with Linksys’s WRT600N dual-band 802.11n router (reviewed above) and were impressed with the pair’s ability to stream high-definition 1080p video to a 42-inch ViewSonic N4285P television across a wireless network, even with the extender inside a cabinet inside our double-walled media room.
The wireless connection stumbled when we tried to stream HD video with 5.1-channel audio attached, however, and it broke down completely when we moved the extender into a more enclosed area of the cabinet. You’ll find photos of our test environments at http://tinyurl.com/28sjsu .
Aside from delivering the familiar Windows Media Center user interface, the primary advantages that devices like the DMA2200 offer are support for PCs equipped with CableCARD digital tuners and hooks to online media content offered by the likes of Comedy Central, Showtime, and the Discovery Channel. Unfortunately, we found the user interfaces most of those services offer to be utter crap. The ability to pause playback on one media extender and resume it on another, on the other hand, is a slick benefit.
Unlike the less-expensive (but only optionally wireless) Xbox 360, this new class of extender freezes out Windows XP Media Center users altogether: Your host PC must run Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate. In fact, aside from the wireless feature and the consumer-electronics formfactor, there’s not a whole lot here that would lead us to recommend the DMA2200 (or even the cheaper, driveless DMA2100, for that matter) over Microsoft’s gaming console—especially if you’re into games.
Streaming 1080p video on a wireless network is compelling; being forced to use Vista to do it isn’t.