Linksys Extender Review Part 2: Extender Experience

Having
the PC setup now on the Media Center side of things
I moved onto the
Extender.  The first step was connecting it to my display (or Receiver in
my case).  I used HDMI to do this, but the DMA2200 has just about every
output you could want if HDMI isn’t an option.  One of the first things I
noticed about the DMA2200 is that it is rock solid in terms of design. 
Cheap feeling plastic is nowhere to be found on the unit itself.  The
remote however is a different story that I will get into later.

My first test involved connecting the Extender to the PC
over a hardwired connection.  This is
still the preferred way to connect any device in my opinion, and I had no
issues doing so.  The standard process
involves putting in the unique code from the PC and then the Extender/PC does
the rest.  Over the hardwired connection
I had boot-ups around 25 seconds on average. 
I’d like to see this improve, but it not horribly bad.

Now presented with the exact same Media Center UI as on the
PC, you can do just about everything you could on the PC.  I scheduled recordings, watched some
previously recorded HD content, listened to music, etc.

Problems and Issues

The first problem with the DMA2200 (and most other v2
Extenders) is the lack of power when compared to an Xbox 360 or the PC
itself.  Because of this the transitions
and menu animations make the unit feel clunky. 
Disabling these in the Settings menu brings the Extender to life.  I would like to see this improved upon
because Media Center frankly looks and feels so much nicer with the
animations.  If it can’t be fixed due to
processing reasons, the Extenders should really disable animations to being
with.  A first time user being greeted
with the poor performance brought on by the animations alone isn’t a good
thing.

On the same topic of lack of processing power, v2 Extenders
lack the use of the forth Zoom mode (nonlinear zoom) which is annoying for
those who have come accustomed to using it on the PC or Xbox 360.

The included remote is trash.  Unlike the DMA2200 itself which is solid feeling, the remote is a cheap feeling plastic piece of trash.  You can actually use any Media Center remote with Extenders, however this presents some problems for local DVD playback controls (the Linksys remote has extra bottons for the DVD playback portion).  A learning or univeral remote would be my choice to replace the Linksys remote, you can program a Harmony remote in seconds via the Harmony software and then learn the extra DVD playback controls from the Linksys remote to complete the setup.

Video Formats

Video playback was my next place to test and instead of a
bunch of explaining in text here is a graphic that outlines most of my
findings.

image

As previously discussed Linksys has disabled playback of
DivX content by blocking DivX specific FourCCs. 
While the DMA2200 will play DivX just like (it’s MPEG-4 ASP, same as
Xvid), you have to use a FourCC Changer on all your DivX files before they will
playback.  What better what to confuse
people than this?  I want to see this
fixed in the first firmware update, it is simply ridiculous that any user
should have to go through the process to play the content they already have.

MKV containers are not supported, but MOV and MP4 both
worked in my testing with H.264 encoded video. 
I’d love to see an update include MKV support; after all it’s a free
open standard.

The Linksys DMA2200 has major issues with outputting
audio.  While DVR-MS files with AC3
(Dolby Digital) are output correctly, AVI files with AC3 audio are not in my
testing (output over HDMI).  Instead the
DMA2200 decodes the AC3 internally and outputs PCM.  Done correctly this isn’t that bad, however
it’s not mixed correctly at all.  The
center channel is completely destroyed in the process, as are the rear
channels.

In addition to AC3 issues, the DMA2200 doesn’t transcode WMA
Professional 5.1 to AC3.  This means that
unless you have an AVR that decodes WMA Professional, your 5.1 channel WMV
files are simply output as two-channel PCM.

VOB files are not supported; however playback does kind-of
work if you rename them to .MPG. 
However, the skip functions on the remote don’t work nicely even after
running the VOB through VideoReDo (QuickStream Fix).

The next issue that I ran into was playback of WMV9 Advanced
Profile content (WVC1).  There is a
problem with the Linksys DMA2100/2200 freezing at 20 minutes into the file.  Not exactly sure why this happens, but it has
be reproduced by several users including myself.

DVD Streaming/Playback

Ripping and streaming DVDs is one of the most common things
people want to do with these Extenders. 
Some things to consider here is that Media Center’s included DVD Library
doesn’t extend to any Media Center Extender, neither do DVD Changers.

 If you want to
catalog movies then using My Movies is your best option.  File format support must match to the above
chart for the content to play via My Movies.

The main problem here is that the lack of a good file format
for such.  In my testing VOBs didn’t work
nicely, DivX/Xvid with AC3 didn’t output correctly, WMV with WMA Professional
5.1 outputs as 2 channel.  Bottom line,
there is no good option at this point for ripping and streaming DVDs.

The DMA2200 also includes a upconverting DVD player locally in the unit.  While a nice addition, it is hardly a top of line DVD player.  Upconverting quality is so-so, and it does appear to suffer from pauses from layer changes.   The box for the DMA2200 states it does 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, however 1080i is the max output resolution that you can actually set the unit too.  I’m not sure if they are planning to add 1080p support at a later date, but the hardware “supports” it if they enable it.

Wireless Experience

As my review package included the Linksys WRT600n Wireless-N
Router I decided to give the DMA2200 a test using Wireless-N instead of my
preferred hardwired connection.  Much to my surprise connecting over 802.11n worked very well minus a few setup issues.

When first setup I did have some pixilation and blocking while playing HD recordings and was prompted that I have a network issue.  I ran the Network Tuning Wizard on the on the Extender (which it prompted me to do) and it looked okay.  I rebooted the router and tried to connect again and was able to stream HD recordings without an issue.  I continued to connect over wireless for the remainder of my testing and didn’t have any other issues.

Despite my success with the Wireless-N setup, it still seems like a hit or miss thing.  802.11n is really a must for nice wireless streaming of HD content, but if audio and SD video is your main usage you might be able to work with 802.11g.  A hardwired connection is always perferred, but clearly not everyone has that option.  Your milage may vary with the wireless aspect of the DMA2200 as their are several factors that come into play.

One cavet, it appears from fellow MVP Barb Bowman that the DMA2100 doesn’t have draft 2.0 compliant Dual Band Wireless-N (doesn’t detect non-Broadcom based (eg. Atheros) WiFi networks that are broadcasting SSID’s).  I didn’t have a DMA2100 to test, but I didn’t have any issues with the DMA2200.  I’ll note that I’m not exactly knowledgeable when it comes to wireless, so I’ll see if I can get a comment from Linksys.  Barb Bowman might be able to followup in the Media Center Newsgroups, but she is one wireless master and the one to point it out.  The DMA2100 also only includes two antennas, while the DMA2200 includes three.

Update: The above should have read “non-Broadcom” based.

Media Center UI on PC & Extenders

Related:

Linksys
Extender Review Part 1: Media Center & PC Setup

Linksys
Extender Review Part 3: Wrap-up
 

11 thoughts on “Linksys Extender Review Part 2: Extender Experience

  1. The DMA2100 is said to have some issues, I don’t know the full extent and as noted I didn’t have a unit to test. You might find Barb Bowman in the Media Center Newsgroups if you want more information. As far as I can tell, the DMA2200 does fine.

  2. I think the key with these units is going to be whether Linksys are prepared to upgrade the firmware. There were always going to be a number of compatibility issues with such a range of video formats – I just hope that they are listening!

    One query, I’m fairly sure there is no technical reason why VOB streaming (with chapter support etc.) couldn’t be done. Is there a legal reason why this is being stopped?

  3. I liked the 2200 so much that I sent it back to Dell and bought another XBox instead. Truth be told, the new XBoxen aren’t too loud (long as there is no disc in them!) and navigating the MC UI is much nicer on it.

    And Chris, you called it right with the DMA2200’s remote… junk. Did you try programming it to control your TV? I couldn’t get it to fly at all.

  4. I tried out the 2100 as I figured I already had a DVD player. The 2100 has no optical toslink. That could be a show stopper for some people.
    Mine is now sitting back on the shelf at Circuit City because of xvid/ac3. Horrible stuttering and basically unusable. My DLink dsm-520 works perfectly on these types of files. I think I’ll hold out and see what DLink’s v2 (dsm-750) extender look like next month.

  5. Matthias2007: Microsoft is probably not doing the work themselves because they can’t (or wont??) provide legal CSS-encrypted streaming. Third parties can add codecs on the Extenders now, so it would seem to me that they can add at least some part of it.

    Galileo: I don’t believe it does them, but once I get another unit I’ll give it a test (I need to ship the review unit back).

    mike: I didn’t even bother trying to program the remote. After about five minutes of using it I just grabbed another Media Center remote from my pile and used it.

    leftheaded: There is a post at The Green Button that says it can, I didn’t test it though.

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