Media Center Extender

Linksys is having a fire sale on the Media Center Extender model DMA-2100 – 50% off the original $300 unrealistic price.  Don’t get me wrong, for $150, if you have a Vista PC and need an extender that is significantly quieter than an Xbox 360, this is a good deal.  It has dual band wireless but does not have a TOSLINK digital audio port, only the COAX digital audio is present on this device.

Note that now that this is officially discontinued, there definitely won’t be firmware updates to provide additional codec compatibility. This would seem to mean that the more expensive DMA-2200 (has an on board DVD player that isn’t all that great but does have the Toslink port) probably won’t see firmware updates either.

This is a V2 extender that works with Vista and Windows 7.  Note that Linksys (and everyone else) also killed of their V1 extenders, which worked only with Windows XP Media Center Edition.

dma-2100

All things considered, as long as you understand you are buying a discontinued product, this is a pretty good deal. I suspect that the price may drop even further as time goes on.

Clubhouse Tags: clubhouse, media center, Media Center Windows 7, windows media center, Tip

The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n ships with a handheld remote that is worthy of its own blog review. Most of the remote controls that I’ve seen shipping with Media Center Computer, Media Center Extenders, etc. are lacking in one or more key features. For one thing, if it doesn’t have some kind of back lighting, it isn’t usable for me in a home theater environment. A couple of the remotes I’ve received along the way from Microsoft and others DO have back lighting, so fortunately, since these things are interchangeable, it hasn’t been a problem for me. My other big gripe is that I have other components with remotes (you know, TV’s, home theater receivers, X10 lighting, and other components like Xboxen, DVD player’s, et all) and I hate remote clutter. For years I’ve used Philips Prontos. And I’ve programmed them with macros that are activity based. Perfect for my needs.

HP has definitely raised the bar when it comes to supplying a premium hand held remote. The images here are NOT to scale and are meant to show the layout and shape as well as features. Both the D-Link (left) and the Linksys (right) are pretty basic remotes. And they do what they are supposed to do. The D-Link DSM-750 has a secondary proprietary MediaLounge interface and their remote works seamlessly with it as well as the Media Center interface.

So what do I like and what do I think sets this remote apart? First, there is a very tactile cursor pad. Then there is the blue back lighting so I don’t have to fumble in the dark. The remote includes universal remote functions and allows you to add 4 additional components (TV, set top box, DVD, Aux, etc.). I haven’t set anything up yet, but for most people this will be more than enough to banish other remotes. There is no macro capability, so my Pronto will stay on the coffee table. And if someone wants to supply a Pronto ccf/pcf file and upload it to remotecentral.com.. I might go the other way and include a device on my Pronto. (Yeah, I can use “learning” and do it all myself). Another really big plus is the “sleep” button. (Think “Green”).

A final BIG plus that I want to highlight today is that the “Green Button” provides one touch access to turn the x280n on and fire up the Media Center Extender interface, and get you connected without going through the MediaSmart menu. Otherwise, you press the power button to reach the main menu and can select the MCX or HP interface from there.

My only complaint so far is that I prefer the play button to be centered, larger and standout more like on the D-Link remote and some of the MS reference designs.

 

comparing remote

The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n ships with a handheld remote that is worthy of its own blog review. Most of the remote controls that I’ve seen shipping with Media Center Computer, Media Center Extenders, etc. are lacking in one or more key features. For one thing, if it doesn’t have some kind of back lighting, it isn’t usable for me in a home theater environment. A couple of the remotes I’ve received along the way from Microsoft and others DO have back lighting, so fortunately, since these things are interchangeable, it hasn’t been a problem for me. My other big gripe is that I have other components with remotes (you know, TV’s, home theater receivers, X10 lighting, and other components like Xboxen, DVD player’s, et all) and I hate remote clutter. For years I’ve used Philips Prontos. And I’ve programmed them with macros that are activity based. Perfect for my needs.

HP has definitely raised the bar when it comes to supplying a premium hand held remote. The images here are NOT to scale and are meant to show the layout and shape as well as features. Both the D-Link (left) and the Linksys (right) are pretty basic remotes. And they do what they are supposed to do. The D-Link DSM-750 has a secondary proprietary MediaLounge interface and their remote works seamlessly with it as well as the Media Center interface.

So what do I like and what do I think sets this remote apart? First, there is a very tactile cursor pad. Then there is the blue back lighting so I don’t have to fumble in the dark. The remote includes universal remote functions and allows you to add 4 additional components (TV, set top box, DVD, Aux, etc.). I haven’t set anything up yet, but for most people this will be more than enough to banish other remotes. There is no macro capability, so my Pronto will stay on the coffee table. And if someone wants to supply a Pronto ccf/pcf file and upload it to remotecentral.com.. I might go the other way and include a device on my Pronto. (Yeah, I can use “learning” and do it all myself). Another really big plus is the “sleep” button. (Think “Green”).

A final BIG plus that I want to highlight today is that the “Green Button” provides one touch access to turn the x280n on and fire up the Media Center Extender interface, and get you connected without going through the MediaSmart menu. Otherwise, you press the power button to reach the main menu and can select the MCX or HP interface from there.

My only complaint so far is that I prefer the play button to be centered, larger and standout more like on the D-Link remote and some of the MS reference designs.

 

comparing remote

x280n_sm HP was kind enough to send me an early near production version of their soon to be released (July 31) MediaSmart Connect Home Theater component. I’ve had a few minutes to take a VERY quick look and the first impression is: It’s great!

Nice looking hardware, piano black finish (production units will have a neat Zen imprint) with a solid heft/feel. Connections for component and HDMI (720p and 1080i supported on both). An HDMI cable is included (nice touch). Audio jacks include RCA stereo (analog) and Optical Digital (SPDIF). No Coax digital, but that suits me just fine. I ranted some about the lack of Optical output on the ”competing” (and I use that term loosely) Linksys DMA-2100.

802.11a/b/g/n (Draft 2.0n) wireless (and 10/100 Ethernet) connect this device to your home network. The device sports USB ports front and rear and includes a HP Pocket Media Drive Bay (the 21st century version of sneaker net storage used to move your digital “stuff” between computers and devices).

If you are looking at size and aesthetics, this image shows the sizes of the x280n, the Linksys DMA-2200 (the 2100 is even smaller and as I blogged, chintzy in feel and cheap looking), the D-Link theater component size DSM-750, and an Xbox 360. For me, it is a draw between the component sized D-Link which, in the real world would fit nicely on the rack that holds my home theater receiver and the HP x280n which would fit nicely and discreetly on top of or under the TV. Top to bottom: HP MediaSmart x280n, Linksys DMA-2200, D-Link DSM-750, Xbox 360.

extenders by size

HP includes a really nice handheld remote. It’s certainly the best of the remotes offered with any of the extenders I’ve seen. It’s backlit (which for me is a must in a darkened room). Setting up the x280n was menu driven and simple. It found several of my 2.4GHz  “N” networks (I’m not certain it is seeing 5GHz N yet, more to come). I associated it, entered the WPA2-PSK passphrase and it was off and running. The first thing it did was check for new firmware. Finding a newer version, it downloaded and applied the newer firmware. After a reboot, it was back up and ready for action.

I elected to set it up as a Media Center Extender first and verify that my OCUR/DCT high def streaming was good to go. No problem there. Since I can do MCX setups in my sleep, and at the speed of light, I was able to quickly get through setup and watch Live and Recorded HD TV.

Exploring the HP MediaSmart interface:

I had a short amount of time to explore HP’s MediaSmart proprietary interface for Media Sharing. I used Windows Media Sharing and UPnP streaming from a server. I have yet to setup HP’s own MediaSmart gateway software, but I’ll get to that. HP has developed a slick and intuitive interface which can be used with Windows XP, Vista, and most likely will be future proof, at least for a while. I like the HP interface and functionality slightly more than D-Link’s MediaLounge interface. Linksys has no such secondary interface. I was easily able to start playing some music and access my photos and play a slide show. This works almost exactly the same way it does on the Media Center Extender interface. All in all, in my first look, a nice, user friendly, solid piece of hardware with great functionality.

hp interface

photo_interface

 

I’ll be updating this post as time permits as I continue to explore and experiment.

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