Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Linksys DMA 2100 Media Center Extender

I've been waiting for a few months and my wait is now over -- the Linksys DMA 2100 was finally released. Dell has it for $250, but Amazon didn't; too bad 'cause I have Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping) for free this month. Anyway, I ordered it New Year's Eve, and it was delivered today.

In my pre-purchase research, I noted from the Linksys product page that it has an HDMI connection, which is obviously the desired way to connect to the TV. Unfortunately, I didn't have a cable so I popped my 7-month-old Oscar into a Baby Bjorn and set out for Radio Shack. WTF? No way am I paying $80 for an HMDI cable. And they have $130 HDMI cables? Who in hell would pay that? I hopped on the subway down to 79th Street and went over to Circuit City to find -- the same thing! Fucking Monster cables for $100+! Even the cheap cables, hidden over on the other side of the store, were $55! I'm sorry, but I'm too damn cheap to pay that for any cable. I walked up to Circuit City on 86th (by this time Oscar had fallen asleep) and they had $80 RCA (brand) cables! Fuck that, some Googling showed practically the same damned cable from Monoprice, who everyone loves, for $4.50 plus $2.50 in shipping and handling. What a scam these HDMI cables are! Even Radio Shack, who I used to think of as trustworthy and where I spent many a happy childhood hour, has gotten in on the scam.

Further research led me to sound output -- it has a digital coax output and my brand new Yamaha YSP-800 has one as well. This was all pre-arranged before the YSP-800 was allowed for purchase. I'm not entirely sure what to say about this thing but once I get rid of the extremely loud HP z552 and put it back in my office I'll have a better sense. So far I feel like it's been a good purchase, but there's still some weird audio nuances that I was trying to solve with surround sound, mainly having to have the thing turned all the way up to hear dialog but then being blasted out of my seat by music or sound effects. It's better with the YSP than with the 2.1 speakers I have been using but it will be easier still to tell once the z552 moves out with all its loud fans blowing all the time.

Additional items that helped my research were this TGB thread full of generally good reviews, which noted that the remote has a learning feature, so it could work the speaker volume and turn the TV on and off, and that 100Mbit (as it is not a Gbit device) is fine for streaming HD content. Some people said the remote sucks, and suggested the Logitech Harmony, but I figured I'd try it first before committing the money. (I don't love the remote because it does seem to miss one out of maybe like 10 button presses, but it hasn't been annoying enough to ask for additional monies to spend.) Ed Bott also wrote a nice review so that was all I needed to hear to go ahead and buy the thing. (He didn't mention the remote.)

totally as an aside:

TGB thread on ripping DVDs; I should do this for kiddi DVDs because we'll lose that functionality and for ease of use

The DMA 2100 showed up today and I set it up before dinner. Since my HDMI cable hadn't shipped yet (should have thought about that when I ordered) I had to go component video. Initially it looked kind of crappy but it picked 480p mode, and I was able to set it up in 1080i mode on my TV (Proview RX326, a 32" LCD with a purported 1366 x 768 resolution) and it looked reasonably clear. The colors seem a little washed out compared to how they look on the media center PC directly through DVI --> HDMI, but videos look fine. Supposedly when I attach it to the TV via HDMI it will automatically detect this stuff.

I had some problems with the setup but mainly it was my own stubbornness. First, I tried to set it up without installing the drivers, because Media Center seemed to recognize the extender. Then, I wasn't really reading the error that clearly when it suggested TURNING OFF the extender AND THEN BACK ON to try to resolve the problem in which it wasn't being found. Doing that made Media Center see the extender just fine.

Here are some problems I had:

No rights to see network shares.

This was a major problem for which a variety of solutions have been put forth on the Internet. I tried this suggestion to put shortcuts in Public Videos, but I didn't see them on the Extender. Upon reading that blog's comments, I ran MKLINK /D and was able to create links that were visible on the extender, but they appeared as empty folders. I then went to my PC and added ANONYMOUS LOGON rights to the shares but I didn't know how to grant that right to the directories themselves. And of course it didn't work. (Note to self: remove them when you get back at your home PC. I am blogging on my laptop in front of the TV :)

The Windows Perl Blog was the first thing I found suggesting a login script which explicitly enters your share credentials, but I was unsure of where to put the login script until I found this, which gave a very simple solution of sharing your own NETLOGON. It seemed inelegant to create explicit mappings, so I tried it with the symbolic links and it worked! So a summary of what I did is:

  • in C:\Users\Public\Public Videos, execute MKLINK /D MyVideos //myserver/myshare
  • create some directory and share it as NETLOGON, granting MCX1, or whichever extender user is appropriate, read-only access
  • create a batch file called mcx1.cmd or whatever you like. It need only contain NET USE \\MYSERVER\MYSHARE /user:someone-with-rights-to-your-share that-user's-password, but maybe it needs to contain @echo off as the first line and exit as the last, it is second nature for my batch files to contain that
  • execute lusrmgr.msc, open up your extender user (MCX1 for those of us with only a single extender), and assign that batch file (mcx1.cmd in my case), with no path, as the logon script
    • Note: must have Vista Ultimate for this step to work
    • Repeat: you must have Vista Ultimate for this step to work, otherwise lusrmgr.msc will throw an error stating this same fact.

Weirdly, after I did all this, I noticed that the shares I was watching before had returned to the Video Library, so, with the symlinks, I had two copies. Oh well, something to solve another day.

Any questions, please comment and I will try to answer.

Xvid is only supported codec

I knew this going in and so far most of my stuff seems playable. The main problem is that, nowadays on the Internet, it would seem that HD content is not in Xvid but rather in x264. If you have a lot of that, it won't work on your extender. Also, my prized copy of Repo Man doesn't play for some reason. Boy, I'm sure my wife will hate that. (To quote one of my many beloved quotes from that movie, "And then what, you woke up in a puddle?")

It does seem that Xvid stuff from a share is kind of slow to start. But, with one exception, it plays and tracks fine.

Missing Zoom #4 mode

That's the "hourglass" mode that I usually had broadcast (non-widescreen) TV set to. Without it, regular TV is either in a smaller window in the middle of the screen in Zoom #1, overlapping so that screen crawls are cut off at the bottom with Zoom #2, or crushed into 16:9 with Zoom #3. Zoom #2 is best but you notice it for credits and crawls and whatnot. Most crawls are ads which I don't need to see but, shit, most of the time I just watch TV shows I downloaded off the Internet so I don't see those crawls anyway.

A little more disturbing is that, with non-broadcast materials (OK, yeah, I'm talking about downloaded movies and TV shows), the zoom buttons don't work at all. So no matter what, that stuff is in zoom mode 2 and is getting cut off..

I'll write more as I work with this thing further. Tomorrow I have to cut the cord and move the MCE PC back to my office so my wife can see the real promised benefit of the extender -- a quiet living room like normal people have :D

Good night,

--sbreck

P.S. I am slowly assembling posts on the DMA 2100 from random problems, annoyances, bugs and fixes that I see. I'll keep posting them when a fully formed post on one or more issues appears, and will update this ending as I see them:

DMA 2100 initial impressions (this post)

converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the DMA 2100

Canon video conversion revisited

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

…or just click the DMA 2100 label over on the right.

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Comments:
Have you had any problems with the music library? Mine is dropping album art, duplicating albums, and really annoying me. I checked all of the stuff on the PC itself and there are no problems. Any suggestions? or similiar problems
 
I tested it tonight (I hadn't even tried out the music stuff the last two nights) and I actually had to set up the library myself, since I store music on an external USB drive. 10 minutes later, after it reimported all 9500 songs, I didn't see any duplicate albums and what I remember of the album art seemed to be fine.

Actually the music experience was better than it had been directly from the Media Center PC -- it was faster. The MCE PC used to take minutes to show playlists and the extender was relatively snappy.
 
It's been a while since the review, but wanted to share my shock at the price of A/V cables today. I did find a site to get good cables for cheap at http://www.mycablemart.com/store/cart.php?m=product_list&c=88
 
@Casey: thanks for the link, I still like monoprice.com but more sites with reasonably priced cables is better than fewer sites.

@Gregory (who I'm sure is no longer following comments but to close the loop): I think I know what you're talking about now that it's been 14 months. I don't really blame the extender itself, I think it's that Windows Media Player's library database is pretty unstable, and if you couple that with a separate user (Mcx1) and the fact that every so often you have to reconfigure the extender to talk to the MCE PC, thus requiring the entire database be recreated, it is a recipe for albums to be missing songs, album art to be re-downloaded (and thus have mistakes / mismatches), and general MP3 problems.
 
I know this is an old post but I wanted to update the information. You can get really great prices on networking or HDMI cables at https://www.firefold.com.
 
Thanks for sharing and for updating some of the information
 
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