Harry Potter and the search for a true Media Center experience

Harry Potter and the search for a true Media Center experience

Summary: After spending hours researching, learning and trying to understand media streaming over a wireless network, I took a bold move and bought a Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2100 without entirely knowing what it would do, provide me, or even if it was what I wanted.I took a stab in the dark and it turned out it was as near as dammit to what I wanted.

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After spending hours researching, learning and trying to understand media streaming over a wireless network, I took a bold move and bought a Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2100 without entirely knowing what it would do, provide me, or even if it was what I wanted.

I took a stab in the dark and it turned out it was as near as dammit to what I wanted.

Before today, I wasn't able to differentiate between Apple TV, a media extender, a media streamer and a DVR. As a technology journalist it is a little embarrassing to admit. I knew what they did in theory but in principle, getting the right device to do exactly what you had hoped is something else.

For those who are not in the know, a media extender allows you to stream pictures, music or videos ("media" hereon in) over a network, wired or wireless, from a PC to a television or external monitor. In reality, a Windows Media Center extender streams the Windows Media Center application (ehshell.exe in Windows Vista and 7) over a network onto your television, giving you the same Windows Media Center experience on your television as you would on your PC.

You may have already switched the old noggin off for the weekend, so in pictogram form:

What you see on your television screen is essentially a remote desktop view of the Windows Media Center application. Once you hit the on button on your media extender and find the right TV extension number on your remote, you see the application as it would be on your PC. But on the PC, Windows Media Center is quietly running in the background and being projected over the wireless network to the television downstairs. I can still use my PC while it is running, including another instance of Windows Media Center if I choose.

Streaming the application itself looks slightly sluggish, even on an 802.11n (240mbps) network, and is clear to see especially in the menus. It feels like you are using it through a Terminal Server window. But when it comes to streaming video for example, there is no sluggishness or delay. It needs a little time - perhaps a few seconds depending on the video size - to buffer the video but experiences no lag or delay.

The media extender will give me everything that my PC has - including live TV if it has a TV card installed. While I can't directly test it, I'm unsure of whether it will really work. The only way I could watch live digital television using my media extender is if I plugged in a TV aerial coaxial cable into my desktop PC upstairs and streamed it over the network.

A simple, single question. Why can't you add a TV-in port to the extender and include a digital TV tuner?

Because now, I can watch all of my streamed media over the network from my PC without a problem, but to watch live television I have to switch from EX7-MEDIA to EX1-DTV on my remote. The reason why I bought an extender was through the sheer determination to expel all remote controls except for one single clicker.

I'm not saying that such a device exists, but having a combination of media streamers, extenders and digital video recorders would be perfect. Having a box which allows you to stream all kinds of media from a shared folder on your PC over a wireless N network - very much like an extender, along with in-built TV capabilities which receives digital TV signals and directly to your television - like Apple TV, but also a unit which has storage enabling you to record live TV and store it on your extender-come-digital TV box - like a DVR.

At least I can download a Harry Potter film and watch it on my 32" widescreen television without burning a single disk...

Topics: Networking, Hardware, Mobility

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12 comments
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  • Using Windows Media Center

    [i]I'm not saying that such a device exists, but having a combination of media streamers, extenders and digital video recorders would be perfect. Having a box which allows you to stream all kinds of media from a shared folder on your PC over a wireless N network - very much like an extender, along with in-built TV capabilities which receives digital TV signals and directly to your television - like Apple TV, but also a unit which has storage enabling you to record live TV and store it on your extender-come-digital TV box - like a DVR.[/i]

    You might want to think of a Windows Media Center PC as the place you set up your multimedia system, and an extender is a device which extends the experience to another screen inside your home. Therefore you could e.g. attach DVD / Bluray drives to your Windows Media Center PC, along with one or more TV tuners. You could even add internal hard drives, get a Windows Home Server, or merely add external hard drives to your PC, and extend your storage space up to several terabytes for your media. Once you are satisfied with the capabilities of your Windows Media Center PC, you can use an extender to extend the experience to other screens in your house.

    Therefore you can do all the things you talked about above - accessing live TV via one or more tuners, recording TV shows, and have terabytes of media streamed to your screen. The above arrangement also has the advantage of allowing you to access Internet based content, which I believe will surge over the coming years. Therefore Windows Media Center is pretty nice technology - though the DRM aspects of it are a real pain.
    P. Douglas
  • Your sluggishness issue

    I know what is causing your sluggishness issue with the application. It's the Linksys extender, not the PC.

    Seriously, use an XBOX 360 as an extender (they can be cheaper than an extender if you look hard enough) and get a wireless N adapter from Linksys(about 50 bucks) instead of the native Microsoft one. The difference is night and day - no sluggishness, Zune integration (letting me listen to all my music I have on a Zune pass) and nice transitions.

    If you go to the winsupersite.com, there is some great write-ups on the extenders, including the xbox and the strengths of each of them.

    BTW - the new Xboxes are MUCH QUIETER than the old ones. I should know - I have two 360s that I use purely as extenders.
    FearTheDonut
  • I currently use 2 ....

    DMA2200's (has a DVD drive unlike the 2100) as well as 2 360's that also serve as Media Center Extenders. I have them wired in, though, and the performance is much better from a "sluggishness" perspective. The 2200's are quieter than the 360's and will stream live HDTV nicely, though in 720p not 1080p. All content is on the pc host and accessable to any client. Their isn't anything else like it, at the moment.
    Oknarf
  • RE: Harry Potter and the search for a true Media Center experience

    I currently have Windows Media Center as my only entertainment solution in my house. I have two cable card TV tuners and a network TV tuner (HDHomeRun) to get for TV signals into MediaCenter.

    So I can do everything that you are talking about plus live HD TV on the PC and 3 extenders (2 of these linksys boxes and an Xbox 360).

    So Media Center actually has everthing you are looking for with no switching over. I actually leave my linksys extender connected to the PC and on all the time so all I have to do is turn on/off the TV.

    Check out my blog for more info and a few videos: http://mynetworkproject.blogspot.com/
    aechevarria76
  • apple tv

    an apple tv gives you all the streaming experience (fotos,
    music, videos from your pc or mac) + on device UI (no
    sluggishness, no delay in navigation) + you can turn the pc
    off and watch all the content you have downloaded (synched)
    on the device + you can access the internet (youtube, flickr,
    mobile me) wirelessly and watch podcasts and buy or rent
    tv-shows and movies - all directly from your tv set. can
    someone explain what the advantage is of having the limited
    linksys media center experience?
    bannedfromzdnetagain
    • Well...

      After researching the Apple TV, I was reluctant to get it because of the price. Plus I didn't think it would be compatible with anything other than iTunes (and I [b]hate[/b] iTunes) so avoided it. If I can get Apple PR to play nice, I'll have one sent through and play with it. Maybe it is exactly what I'm looking for?
      zwhittaker
    • Windows Media Center vs. Apple TV

      The problem with Apple TV is that it is centered around iTunes. E.g. to watch TV shows, you purchase them laden with DRM from iTunes, and watch them on your Apple TV. With Windows Media Center, you can install multiple TV receivers, and record TV programs for free (in many cases over the air in HD) or from cable. There is even an <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioyot601W1g>Hauppauge HD-PVR that allows you to record HD programs from cable, etc.</a> without DRM issues. As the videos in <a href=http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/07/27/windows-7-media-center-review/>this review</a> show, Windows Media Center is far more developed than Apple TV. Plus there is a native Internet TV section, in addition to <a href=http://secondrun.tv/>third party plugins</a> that you can use, to obtain Internet based content. Windows Media Center therefore has much more richness, flexibility, and has less recurring expenses, than using Apple TV.
      P. Douglas
      • Apple TV DRM

        Ah yes, when you purchase TV programs from Apple.
        What about video files you happen to have already
        with no DRM?
        HollywoodDog
  • boxee

    I have to say that I've tried all of these things and Boxee is where its at for me. Boxee will run on an AppleTV, Mac or Ubuntu system and aggregates all of your online media with your local media. It makes windows media center look like an answer to the wrong question. On a Mac you also gain the ability to watch Netflix (no silverlight for linux and appletv has too slow a cpu for the bloated silverlight plugin).

    Granted, its not a magic box straight from the shelf but neither is a windows media center pc + some geekware "media center receiver" box. I suspect that over time someone like Roku will release something like Boxee (or use Boxee itself). They are definitely leaning that way with their current media player.
    cabdriverjim
    • Silverlight plug in is bloated?

      Silverlight is NOT bloated at all... Silverlight has a much smaller footprint and uses far less resources than Flash... Apple TV doesn't support Silverlight because it has a totally insufficient processor. Pentium M 1Ghz? Seriously? It can't run Flash either without being hacked.. and even then it doesn't run it well. Let's not blame the software for a hardware issue. Apple TV isn't ready for prime time.
      condelirios
  • Make sure the firmware is patched to the latest release!

    Much of the initial sluggishness of the interface is eliminated when you upgrade the firmware on the Linksys extender.

    Go the the initial startup page where you have two options (or three on the 2200) -- one for Media Center and the other for Setup/options. Somewhere in the options menus there is an option for checking for updates.

    When I did that, then menus went from herky-jerky to very smooth.

    I have used it on both wireless N and wired connections, and both seem smooth.
    Speednet
  • RE: Harry Potter and the search for a true Media Center experience

    Personally i would have gone for the new Ps3 slim and Playtv, with twin digital tuners. This way i'd have wireless streaming, game playing, digital tv, epg, built in upgradeable storage, pvr and other options i can't think of right now. All for under $1,000.
    I Hate Malware