The quest for the best Media Center Extender

Since it appears that no one really knows which is the best Media Center Extender, I’ll have to figure it out myself. This is a good thing, as I really like doing this type of thing.

As hard as I tried yesterday, I wasn’t able to order a D-Link DSM-750 for less than $300 yesterday, and after learning that my local Circuit City had the Linksys DMA2100 in stock for $249, I went ahead and picked one up. At the same time, I got an email from a representative of D-Link who’d saw my post yesterday and offered to send me a DSM-750 for review! So once I get it, I plan to rent an Xbox 360 and do a full head to head review for Engadget HD. But in the meantime, here’s my initial impressions of the Linksys.

Setup was easy — although it did take like 5 tries before it’d link up with VMC — but despite the unit being about 15 feet from my 802.11G AP and without any walls in the way, the network tuner indicated I didn’t have enough throughput for HD. So I found a patch cable and used the CAT5 drop I already had behind the TV. The remote isn’t nearly as bad as Chris L lead me to believe it was, but programming was really weird — love the fact the vol, mute and pwr is programmable though– and the LiveTV, RecordedTV etc, buttons on the top are a little on the small side. The UI is very responsive and down right fast, but I’m surprised how drab it looks without the animations etc. Overall I have to say Microsoft did a great job — yeah, I said it — integrating the extenders. I’m very impressed with the experience and the tuner conflict resolution, as well as the way the two TVs don’t step on each other. Nice job guys. The box is completely silent and the remote does work good; in fact my only hardware complaint is the super bright blue led, that actually woke me out of bed in the middle of the night in search of some black tape to cover it with.

To give you an idea of how well this thing worked out of the box is that I actually set it up in about 30 minutes and my wife was watching her shows on it the same night. And just like most others, my wife is my toughest user. I should have the final part today as I expect my CableCARD tuner, so my migration from TiVo to VMC is nearly completion.

17 Responses to “The quest for the best Media Center Extender”

  1. Trent Says:

    That is great you had a quick and easy setup with the Linksys. I personally feel that the Xbox will give you the best experience out of all the extenders. The gui from the xbox is much more fluid. The only problem is, of course, the noise level.

    I do like the concept of the HP mediasmart tv with the extender built in. If only the display was better! ;) I have played with them on numerous accounts. They work very well. Best of luck with your test. I personally run the xbox at home as my extender, and I love it. I just turn the volume up on my receiver. ;)

  2. Ben Drawbaugh Says:

    Trent,
    How would you compare the graphics and the response of the UI of the HP Media Smart TV with the Xbox360?

    As for turning up the volume, this is for my bedroom and I like to watch TV before I fall asleep, thus the volume needs to be very low.

    I usually put my equipment all in the same closet, but the idiot at MS who thought it was a good idea to use the same remote codes on every extender and the Media Center is making that very difficult on me.

    I can upgrade my IR distribution system to a multi-zone version for about $150 to eliminate the problem, but I’ve also heard the 360 doesn’t care for IR extenders and overall has unreliable IR.

  3. Trent Says:

    Ben,
    I understand your reservations about the Xbox360. I agree with you for the bedroom setup that the xbox would not be good. I would definitely want a silent operation as well.

    Yes, the remote codes for the extenders and the media center are the same. The xbox360 accepts the media center commands as you are aware. You can however turn that feature off in the system setup blade to only accept xbox remote codes. Then you would have no cross talk between your media center remote and your xbox remote on your media center and xbox.

    Yes, the IR can be a bit tricky on the xbox. I have made it work reliably though with IR extenders.

    The gui on the mediasmart TV is not great compared to the xbox. There really isn’t any animation that is involved on the mediasmart. It’s not the greatest. But, once you load up live tv or recorded tv, it looks just as good as the xbox. If I was going to add an extender to my bedroom, and I didn’t have a tv already there. I would definitely give the HP a solid look though. It is a great solution, and it was very reliable and speedy.

  4. Ben Drawbaugh Says:

    Trent,
    Very interesting, so I can put the Media Center and the 360 in the same rack without zoning the IR, but not two 360s right?

    Care to share what you had to do in order to get reliable IR response with an externder and the 360?

    If so then, the 360 may be the best choice, as I can put it in the closet and with any luck won’t be able to hear it. (My equipment closet is actually the same as my bed room closet and currently I can’t hear the XPS 420)

    BTW, for whatever reason you have to use html tags (br) to create paragraphs in my comments, not sure why that is, I need to look into it though because it’s very annoying.

  5. Trent Says:

    Ben,
    You would be correct in saying that you wouldn’t be able to do more than one 360 without zoning the ir.
    The setup worked for me by combining a xantech system and a speakercraft system. I think if I would have given it more time, either one would have worked by itself.
    I used a Xantech 480-95 DinkyLink plugged into a SpeakerCraft AT-1.0 Amplified Terminator unit. Then I had the IR bug coming out of the unit onto the xbox. It took some time finding the “sweet spot” for the xbox. It worked very well and we replicated this in multiple rooms.
    If you can’t hear your 420 in your rack, then I would say you’re pretty safe in assuming you wont be able to hear your 360 in the rack either.
    Also, I tried throwing in some breaks in the html, but I must have done it incorrectly. Hopefully this post will be better!

  6. Trent Says:

    Looks like I didn’t do it correctly again! :)

  7. Ben Drawbaugh Says:

    Don’t worry, I really need to fix it on my end.

    I have a similar setup. I’m using Xantech 480-85 DinkLink to a Xantech 791-44 amplified block. I have a few IR blasters that I use, some work better than others on different equipment. I know what you mean about finding the sweet spot. In the case of my VMC, the sweet spot was just sticking the receiver and the blaster in a small box together.

    To upgrade to the Xantech 750-20 4 zone connecting block will set me back about $125 and with the information you’ve given me and the fact that VMC is really making my system much much simpler, I’m not sure it’s worth the upgrade.

    Thanks again for your help, I can’t wait to get all three extenders in my house so I can really compare them.

  8. Trent Says:

    Ben,
    Your setup should work just fine with the IR. That is quite funny about your Dell sweet spot. I also feel that you should hold back on the upgrade of your connecting block. It sounds like you pretty much have everything you need to have at least have 2 rooms covered.
    Please let me know how you feel about all of the different extenders. I found this video on youtube comparing the Linksys and Xbox. It is rather long at 9 minutes and is using 50hertz and 60hertz. So it isn’t the best comparison, but it is interesting.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poyubhQl9zw

    Also, do you ever go to any of the trade shows like Cedia, CES, EHX, etc…? I think I heard in your podcast that you were at EHX. I was there as well this year.

  9. Ben Drawbaugh Says:

    Thanks for the link, watching now. I may need to pick up an spl meeter for my review and include a video like that one, but in HD and without the hiss. ;)

    The way it seems right now, if the 360 is quiet enough and the IR works, I’ll end up going that route as I prefer the UI. Plus I can finally play COD4 which is the only game I’ve been missing since selling my 360 6 months ago.

    Yes, I go to EHX Orlando, and CES in Vegas every year. I wish I could go to CEDIA too, but I don’t have enough days off from my day job.

  10. Dave Zatz Says:

    Xbox does a lot, but it’s big and loud. I rarely to never use it as an extender, but I love it for games and for the occasional movie download. I’ve also streamed Xvid from my Mac to Xbox as part of a BitTorrent experiment – worked rather well, though the source resolution wasn’t great.

  11. Trent Says:

    Glad you enjoyed the link. I think you will be fine with the noise level and the ir control. Plus you also get to play COD4. Perfect!
    That would be great if you did a comparison video with an spl meter and did it in HD!

    I am sure you probably noticed our booth at EHX this year. I work for Life|ware. Next time you are at one of the shows, you should stop by and say “hey”.

  12. ChrisW Says:

    I’d like to throw my two cents in…

    I have a 2005 media center, with an HD-homerun (damn directTV hurry up) and 2 xbox360 as extenders. and I love them.

    I know your concern is the sound of the console, but I really don’t even notice it anymore…

  13. Tyler Says:

    Get the Xbox360, so I can smoke you at COD4 :P

  14. Project HTPC » Blog Archive » links for 2008-04-18 Says:

    […] The quest for the best Media Center Extender » Ben Drawbaugh I wasn’t able to order a D-Link DSM-750 for less than $300 yesterday, and after learning that my local Circuit City had the Linksys DMA2100 in stock for $249, I went ahead and picked one up. (tags: Vista MediaCenter Windows Extender) […]

  15. clivens Says:

    see this video from the uk, and he has a good site http://iandixon.co.uk/cs/blogs/extra/archive/2008/02/07/video-comparing-the-xbox-360-with-a-linksys-dma2100.aspx

  16. links for 2008-04-18 | MyHTPC.TV Says:

    […] The quest for the best Media Center Extender » Ben Drawbaugh I wasn’t able to order a D-Link DSM-750 for less than $300 yesterday, and after learning that my local Circuit City had the Linksys DMA2100 in stock for $249, I went ahead and picked one up. (tags: Vista MediaCenter Windows Extender) […]

  17. links for 2008-04-18 | MyHTPC.TV Says:

    […] The quest for the best Media Center Extender » Ben Drawbaugh I wasn’t able to order a D-Link DSM-750 for less than $300 yesterday, and after learning that my local Circuit City had the Linksys DMA2100 in stock for $249, I went ahead and picked one up. (tags: Vista MediaCenter Windows Extender) […]