It’s a DVD player on amphetamines, its specification so exciting we reached for the camomile tea to ease our nerves. But our our elation quickly deflated, and its shortcomings greeted us with a heavy thud.
Wireless network-based media streaming is nothing new. Netgear, Linksys, Creative et al have all had a stab at releasing the entertainment content on our PCs to the hi-fis and TVs dotted around our homes. Interestingly, most of the companies releasing digital media adapters have come from IT backgrounds. Like Buffalo, Netgear, Linksys and Creative all specialise in making computer components and peripherals. Their AV skills are hardly legendary. Only Philips, with its fantastic Streamium range, has achieved outstanding consumer electronics devices with built-in home networking. So, our excitement when opening the LinkTheater’s box was tinged with trepidation.
The progressive scan DVD player supports SVCD and PC data formats as well as DVD, while the integral 802.11g wireless streams a variety of formats from your PC’s hard disk. As well as WMV and WMV High-Definition playback, it can also stream the standard and HD flavours of DivX, too. The component video connection will let you output 720p or 1080i video, so what you have here is a High-Definition video player.
The other key formats are audio-based: the predictable MP3 and WMA codecs of course, plus Ogg Vorbis, WAV and AAC. Connecting the LinkTheater up to your TV is more limiting. You’ve got composite (urrrgghhh), S-Video and component – not a digital video connection in sight, which is a disappointment considering HDMI would also be handy. There are, however, optical, coaxial and analogue outputs.
Where the LinkTheater really shines is in configuration of its wireless networking capability. Wireless set-up is commendably
easy, and we managed to pair the LinkTheater with our PC fairly effortlessly, too. The most frustrating thing about streaming devices is
that they all too often can’t find your PC on
your home network. This one did, first time.
As with all home networking installations, we recommend buying components (routers, adapters, etc) from the same manufacturer
– this is essential if you have MIMO gear. If you have other Buffalo networking kit, you can use the company’s AOSS wireless networking security standard. A compatible AOSS router can easily handshake with the LinkTheater and automatically set up wireless security between the two. If wireless isn’t your cup of tea, you still have the option of creating a wired Ethernet connection to your PC. In fact, with a wired connection, the LinkTheater’s abilities move up to a whole new level. 802.11g Wi-Fi has the bandwidth for audio and low-bandwith video formats such as DivX, but it’s completely useless when it comes to most forms of video streaming. A wired connection is essential if you intend to stream high quality and High-Definition video material around your home.
Now here’s an idea… What about hooking up the LinkTheater to Buffalo’s own TeraStation, a colossal networked media storage device that could take your entire DVD and CD collection, and probably your neighbours’ too. We did, and because the LinkTheater allows you to play files directly from NAS storage devices, you suddenly find yourself with a highly functional digital entertainment hub. You could also connect an external hard drive through the LinkTheater’s USB 2.0 port, and play media directly from that.
Networking device: fantastic. DVD player: pedestrian at best – video playback is down there with the worst of them. This is a good idea half-heartedly executed and our initial elation of this inherently digital home product was only to be punctured as soon as we used it. Shame.
For: Decent price; DVD player an added bonus; easy set-up; DivX support.
Against: Not a top spec product; no HDMI; AOSS is a bit of a gimmick.
Verdict: Very much a budget product. If you’re a serious AV fanatic, get something pricier.