Buffalo LinkTheater

30th Apr 2005 | 23:00

Buffalo LinkTheater

Another bash at the all-in-one networking device

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A budget product but it does the job. However, hi-fi buffs will probably look further up the price ladder

Like:

<p>Easy setup</p><p>Reasonable all-round performance</p>

Dislike:

<p>No Scart</p>

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 hifis 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 managed to develop outstanding consumer electronics devices with built-in home networking. That's why, when we opened the box for Buffalo's LinkTheater, our excitement 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, the player 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. DivX compatibility is always good to see. 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 big disappointment considering the High- Definition capabilities. Scart would also be handy. There are, however, optical, coaxial and analogue audio outputs.

Wireless networking

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 happen to 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.

However, Buffalo's refusal to properly supply an ADSL Wi-Fi router in the UK (its only product is re-badged and in short supply) hampers the aim of building a single-brand home network.

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 (reviewed Digital Home 23), 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 like this, 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 right down there with the worst of them. The remote is tacky and not universal, while the Media Center-esque on-screen interface is nicely designed, it screams 'PowerPoint'!

So, the networking capabilities are brilliant but, ultimately, AV performance is staggeringly pathetic. Buffalo just doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to home cinema credentials. This is a good idea half-heartedly executed. Our initial elation of this inherently digital home product was only to be punctured as soon as we actually used it. Shame. Dan Grabham

BroadbandDigital videoHome cinemaNetworkingRouterVideoWi-FiBuffalo
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