Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
Many of us now have massive amounts of ripped, created, downloaded and otherwise ‘obtained’ media – video, audio and pictures – stored on our PCs. But the PC monitor is often not the place we want to view them.
The Linksys DMA2200 is a product that allows you to take that media on your PC and transmit it to your big-screen television set, so you can watch downloaded movies, for example, on your TV rather than your computer monitor. It connects to your computer via a wired or wireless network.
Although it’s called a Windows Media Center Extender, you don’t technically need to have a PC running Windows Media Center to use the Linksys. It also supports what’s called UPnP AV. UPnP is special software running on a PC that serves up media to network media players such as the DMA2200. You can get UPnP AV software for free, and all versions of Windows Vista actually have it built in (it’s part of Windows Media Player, accessible under Media Sharing).
To take full advantage of the DMA2200, however, you need Windows Media Center. With the DMA2200, you can take remote control of a PC running Windows Media Center, controlling recording and playback of video and music just as if you were sitting in front of the PC. In effect, it makes the DMA2200 work very much like a PVR, except that it uses the computer to store recorded video.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Linksys DMA2200 is its support of 802.11n wireless networking. The newer ‘n’ standard is much faster than ‘g’ wireless networking, and is actually capable of streaming high definition video from a PC without a hitch – something that 802.11g struggles with.
The DMA2200 can also be connected to a PC over a wired (Ethernet) network if you prefer the reliability of a physical connection and don’t mind running a bit of cable around the house. It outputs to a TV screen via HDMI, composite or component connections (though annoyingly it doesn’t actually come with an HDMI cable). It also outputs stereo audio and has digital and optical audio outputs for connecting to surround decoders such as AV receivers, DVD receivers and SoundBars.
When we hooked the DMA2200 up to our plasma screen using HDMI it worked very well indeed. It played high definition video over an 802.11n wireless network without any fuss, and the picture on the TV screen was perfect, with no artefacts, errors or stuttering. In short, the Linksys was entirely up to spec.
It also proved easy to set up. With our Windows Media Center (running on Windows Vista Ultimate) already running, the DMA2200 picked it up immediately.
It played back most of the formats we had on our Windows Media Center PC. However, it does have a few notable omissions from its support list. Older videos, recorded in once-popular codecs such as DivX 3 failed to play back correctly or at all, which means that people with an array of existing videos may find that a number of them just won’t play.
The DVD player also worked well, the high definition video upscaling delivering clear pictures on the plasma screen.
There’s nothing deficient about the DMA2200 – it does its job and it does it well enough. There are, however, more affordable options on the market and, of course, the Xbox 360. This, too, is a Windows Media Center Extender; one that’s capable of playing all the same formats and doing all the same things as the Linksys, but which also throws killer games action into the mix. This presents as a real challenge for the DMA2200, but it has a something of trump card that will appeal to many consumers – it is wireless and the Xbox 360 is not.