Media Center PCs are a great idea. They let you enjoy the videos, music and photos on your hard drive in the comfort of your living room. Since not everyone wants a noisy, unattractive PC in the centre of the home, that's where Media Center Extenders come into play. These devices act as a bridge between your PC and your television. Your PC can live out of sight while the extender, which is far less intrusive, brings all your multimedia files to your TV.
One of the first extenders to hit market is the £230 Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2200, which promises to deliver where ordinary media streaming devices have failed.
Aesthetically, the DMA2200 has much in common with an ordinary DVD player. While this is no cause for fanfare, it means the device won't look too out of place in your living room. The only clue as to the DMA2200's cleverness is the three aerials protruding from the rear.
At the front, the DMA2200 has a tray-loading DVD drive with a thin LED indicator strip that displays status messages or animations when the system is in standby mode. The drive allows you to watch DVD movies upscaled as high as 1080p -- the same resolution Blu-ray or HD DVD movies.
Round the back, the DMA2200 is festooned with input-output ports. The most important of these include an HDCP-enabled HDMI port, composite and component video, plus Scart and S-Video outputs. If your telly doesn't have one of these sockets going spare, then you've probably been ripped off.
Other connections include a digital coaxial SPDIF port for Dolby surround sound shenanigans, and a USB port. Unfortunately, this is for service purposes only -- you can't use it to access files on a USB key.
The DMA2200 has a lot in common with the Xbox 360. Both serve as Media Center extenders, both play DVDs and both cost around £230. Unlike the Xbox 360, however, the DMA2200 is silent in operation and can operate over wireless Ethernet. Anyone who's still not enamoured by the price might want to consider the DMA2100, which ships without the DVD playback capability.
The Media Center Extender DMA2200's biggest selling point is its ease of use. Setting it up is extremely simple. Just connect it to your router over wired or wireless Ethernet, then to your TV via Scart or HDMI, and install the accompanying software on your PC.
The only difficulties we encountered arrived when our McAfee Firewall software prevented the extender from communicating with the PC. This was quickly remedied, despite Windows Vista throwing a hissy fit and not properly communicating what the actual problem was.
Once up and running, the DMA2200 displays a launcher menu on your TV that gives you the choice of playing a DVD or entering the Media Center interface. The former is self-explanatory and the latter looks exactly like the Windows Media Center interface you find in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Vista.
Everything is logically arranged so it's easy to find whatever type of media it is you're looking for. Music, for example, can be arranged by artist, genre or you can browse by album art. Our only complaint here is that the menu is sluggish.