Go ahead and bash Windows Vista (it’s fun!), but don’t knock its sweet, sweet Media Center app. Bundled with Vista Home Premium and Ultimate, MC serves up tunes, photos, videos, DVDs, and, if you BYO tuner, DVR-style TV. Just one problem: Who wants to gather ’round the warm basking glow of the PC? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, maybe, but not you. Solution: living room-ready media extenders, which leverage your home network to bridge the gap between your PC and the TV.
The sleek, glossy, component-style DSM-750 rocks Draft-N (802.11n) wireless, so if you pair it with a similarly advanced router, you can cut the Ethernet umbilical cord and still stream high-def content. That’s the theory, anyway: Media merely dribbled between our Netgear router and the extender, even with only a single physical wall separating them. It was only when we synced the MediaLounge with D-Link’s GamerLounge router (hmmm), that we got video flowing like an avalanche. Able to operate at a higher frequency (5 GHz) we were able to use the router to easily stream even high-def TV.
The DSM-750 does connectivity right with its HDMI, component video and optical audio outputs, making it a good fit with high-falutin’ home theaters. It can stream most video and audio formats, including DRM-protected tunes. But what’s the deal with DVDs? The extender lacks a player, and idiotic copyright restrictions prevent you from streaming DVDs from your PC. If you want movies, you’ll have to download them from Media Center staple CinemaNow or rip your disc library.
As extenders go, this one works pretty well, though smart shoppers will look to the Xbox 360 instead. Yep, Microsoft’s game console doubles as a media extender, and it can download both movies and TV shows via Xbox Live. Plus, it plays DVDs. You’ll need a get-gadget connection to stream video, but at least you won’t need a new router.>