Cast very much in the same mould as the Netgear EVA700, the Buffalo LinkTheater is a network media player that sits between your TV or hi-fi and your PC network, relaying digital media between the two.

The LinkTheater is much smaller than the Netgear but has a similar spec - it too is designed to work with Intel Viiv hardware and has 54Mbps (megabits per second) 802.11a and g Wi-Fi and 100Mbps wired ethernet. Driven by Mediabolic software, it supports pretty much the same range of video and audio codecs as the Netgear, but it doesn't support HD (high-definition) content.

On the socket front, the Buffalo lacks the component output of the EVA700, but it does have Scart, S-Video and Composite outputs. The LinkTheater has a Toslink digital audio output rather than an S/PDIF (Sony/Philips digital interface).

Setting up the LinkTheater was straightforward - a wizard walks you through connecting to a network, and once we'd keyed in our WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) key we were away. The LinkTheater can use Windows Media Connect or its own Media Server software, which we used. We were then able to browse on our TV using the Media Center-style interface, which was noticeably better than that of the Netgear.

We experienced a few problems, but hopefully these will have been fixed in the final product - we used an engineering sample for our review. For example, setting up the display wasn't possible, so we were unable to specify the aspect ratio of our TV.

Browsing was quite fast, but playing a video involved a minute or two of buffering before it would play. After an hour or so of playback it would hang, thus forcing a restart. The LinkTheater was mostly effective at playing Divx movies, but there were some visual artefacts when the scene changed - something that didn't happen when the same content was viewed on a PC.

You don't have to connect the LinkTheater to a PC - you can keep your digital media on an external hard drive such as the LinkStation Live. External drives have become extremely popular, but Buffalo's LinkStation Live distinguishes itself from the common herd in a number of ways.

Buffalo LinkTheater: Specs

  • A&G Network Media Player PC-P4LWAG, digital multimedia receiver
  • 280x124x47mm
  • 0.7 kg
  • AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
  • infrared remote control
  • Intel VIIV Technology
  • stereo
  • digital audio, digital photo, digital video playback
  • wireless, wired connectivity - IEEE 802.11b (Wi-Fi), IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet), USB, IEEE 802.3u (Fast Ethernet)
  • 128-bit WEP, 64-bit WEP, WPA-PSK (TKIP) encryption
  • supports MP3, WMA, WAV, AC3, AAC
  • BMP, JPG, PNG
  • MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV
  • omposite video, S-Video, component vid
  • A&G Network Media Player PC-P4LWAG, digital multimedia receiver
  • 280x124x47mm
  • 0.7 kg
  • AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
  • infrared remote control
  • Intel VIIV Technology
  • stereo
  • digital audio, digital photo, digital video playback
  • wireless, wired connectivity - IEEE 802.11b (Wi-Fi), IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet), USB, IEEE 802.3u (Fast Ethernet)
  • 128-bit WEP, 64-bit WEP, WPA-PSK (TKIP) encryption
  • supports MP3, WMA, WAV, AC3, AAC
  • BMP, JPG, PNG
  • MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV
  • omposite video, S-Video, component vid

OUR VERDICT

This is an interesting product. Once the bugs are ironed out, the LinkTheater will surpass the Netgear EVA700 for features and price. The LinkStation Live is a good match for it, and is worth buying even if its multimedia capabilities aren't required.

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