I’ve been on the fence for a while now on getting a Media Center Extender and I came across a good deal on the HP x5400 Media Center Extender so I decided to pick one up. (I can’t confirm it but I think HP discontinued making the extenders because they weren’t selling well) I’ve been running it through it’s paces the last couple of days and here’s my initial thoughts (performed on a standard 19” TV and running off of a straight wireless G network):
+ Setup and Initial Thoughts
Design: The unit is very well designed. It is about the size of a normal DVD player, it’s black and sleek – just the right mix of functionality and appearance. It has a cool ‘jog’ wheel on the front and the green button of course.
Remote Control: The remote has all of the same functions that the Microsoft remote has plus it has a ‘Radio’ button which I thought was pretty neat. It did not light up when the buttons were touched like the Microsoft remote does so you can see the buttons at night. I did notice that the HP remote had more line-of-sight issues with the extender receiver than I have with my Microsoft remote unit.
Installation: The installation would of been seamless had I not had Microsoft’s latest anti-spyware program installed. It had caused problems with my Media Center PC so I disabled it but did not uninstall it. Trust me, you will want to uninstall it otherwise the extender will keep telling you that your CPU bandwidth is all used up.
User Interface: Since the user interface on the extender is the same as the Media Center interface this worked out great. (I think the Xbox Extender has a slightly different interface) Some plug-ins work and some do not work on the extender. The best approach I have found is when installing a plug-in on the PC to make sure it installs under ‘Everyone’ and that it shows up under the Media Center interface start menu.
Music and Pictures: Playing music and viewing photos over my wireless G network worked flawlessly. I had no issues at all doing this. You can definitely use extenders to spread your music around the house.
Video: Playing video across my wireless G network was a little more tricky but still worked surprisingly well. Occasionally I will see the video playback hitch or stutter but for the most part playing back MPEG-2 and WMV ripped DVD’s worked great. I use the My Movies plug-in for this and it is the killer app for video on the extender in my mind.
TV: TV playback was the most frustrating feature to get to work all of the time. Sometimes live TV would work fine and the recorded TV wouldn’t and other times it would be the opposite. When your network doesn’t have enough bandwidth you will get a warning message that says ‘network congestion’. If you check out the forums everyone has a solution: upgrade your router, use a hub and not a switch, stand on your head, etc. I think the bottom line for video playback to work at it’s best is to get the fastest router you can (A/G) and you mine as well make sure it has the ‘designed for Media Center’ logo on it. (My router is not on the certified hardware list)
Image Quality: The image quality on the HP extender is great – the live TV looks better through my extender than it does on my host MCE machine! I’m not running on any high-end displays but I was still happy with the results.
Speed: Using the interface through the extender is a lot slower – you can notice the difference especially when accessing the TV menu’s.
Overall Performance: I was very impressed with the overall experience of the Media Center extender – I thought it really imaged the Media Center interface well and I didn’t notice any major differences between the two. The extender will suffer due to your network bandwidth so get a fast network if you want to stream TV and video because you are going to need all of it. (Yes the extender has limitations on how much bandwidth it can stream but routers are cheap it’s always better to have overkill than just-not-enough) Even with these issues the extender gives you so much opportunity to place your digital content where and when you want it that it is too tempting to pass up.
+ Why the Extenders Aren’t Selling
A lot of people have been talking about the recent research survey stating that the Media Center extender’s are not selling well. For me the initial $299 price was way too much seeing how you could purchase the full Media Center operating system for $150. Plus a lot of people have been down on the extenders because they do not have a DVD drive and only support limited video playback formats. I really think Microsoft missed it’s chance by not selling every copy of Media Center with an extender all for $299. Surely Microsoft could of afforded to give away the hardware and that would of guaranteed that people would put the extender in the living room. How many people use their Media Center PC as their main display in the living room? The Media Center extender IS the Media Center experience and I think that concept failed to get out in the marketing message. I can use my Media Center PC as normal, without even having the Media Center interface open and someone in the other room can be watching TV, listening to music and living the digital life – that’s the Media Center experience.
Filed in: Streaming Media Devices