What’s missing when you use a Media Center Extender?

I’ve gotten some great comments to my first look at the Linksys DMA2100 Media Center Extender. One commenter asked whether menu options are the same when you use the Media Center interface on an extender compared with the full Media Center interface on the Vista Media Center PC to which it’s connected. The answer is no. Although virtually all the core functionality is the same, there are some differences.

Microsoft has an excellent FAQ on Troubleshooting problems with a Media Center Extender device that answers this exact question. Here’s a table listing the differences by UI area, as organized on the Media Center Start page:

Media Center UI area Features not available on Media Center Extender
  • Printing
  • Visualizations
  • Fast forward or Rewind
  • Set Up TV Signal
  • Adjust Display Settings
  • Slow motion
  • Step forward or backward [Note 3]
  • CGMS/A-protected content [Note 1]
  • Fast forward or Rewind (for video files other than Recorded TV shows with .dvr-ms file name extension) [Note 2]
CDs or DVDs
  • Burn to CD
  • Burn to DVD
  • Watch DVDs that are inserted in a DVD drive on the Windows Media Center computer
  • Listen to audio CDs that are in the CD-ROM drive on the Windows Media Center computer
More Programs
  • Some games (for example, Hearts, Chess Titans, and Freecell)
  • Sync to device
  • Media-only mode
  • Add Extender
  • Music
  • DVD
  • Color Scheme
  • Automatic Download Options
  • Set Up TV Signal
  • Set Up Your Speakers
  • Test Digital TV antenna strength
  • Configure Your TV or Monitor
  • Run Setup Again
  • Remote Control Set Up
  • Teletext
  • Marquee Scrolling
  • Popups
General and Privacy Settings/Privacy Statement
  • Retrieve media information for CDs and DVDs from the Internet

Hope that’s useful information.

Note 1: As Chris Lanier points out in the comments, CGMS-A content playback has been fully supported on v1 and v2 extenders since Update Rollup 1 for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Its appearance in this listing appears to be an error.

Note 2: I just downloaded an Amazon Unbox video (WMV format), and the Rewind/FF and Skip Forward/Back buttons work just fine when I watch it on the extender.

Note 3: Not sure what this is referring to, but the Skip functions work just fine when I watch recorded TV on an extender.

7 thoughts on “What’s missing when you use a Media Center Extender?

  1. “CGMS-A-protected content” is available on all v2 Extenders and the Xbox 360. Not sure why they carried that over, even v1 Extenders supported it (after Update Rollup 1 for Extenders).

  2. Wow. I was reluctant to get an extender because I was afraid of limitations like these, turns out I was right. While most of these limitations make complete sense and shouldn’t be missed anyway, there are a few that are quite critical I think. No step forward or back? No fast forward? Damn I’m glad I pulled all those long cables to plug a real PC to my TV! (my PC is 60ft away from the TV it serves).

    Do the extender menus feel “laggy” when compared to direct access? How about the picture? Is it smooth or are there occasional bumps? Have to find someone with an extender to see for myself, but overall it sounds like a pretty bad idea for me (very subjective opinion here).

  3. I just got the DMA2100 earlier this week. Connection is wired.

    There is step forward/back, but really just for recorded tv. If that is all you watch, it is a non-issue.

    It initially felt laggy. However, after reading some things on The Green Button I turned off the transition animations and it feels right.

    My Xbox360 is attached to the same TV (Samsung 46″ DLP – 16:9) as my HPTC. If I turn on the extender functionality on the 360, the picture is almost identical to Vista MCE. The 2100 is attached to a 32″ Sony HDTV, however it is 4:3. The interface screens appear as an entirely different blue on the Sony TV. However, watching recorded television is fine. The picture streaming live TV looks just as good as the cable connection. I can stream HDTV to the extender via OTA HD on the HTPC and it looks pretty good as well. I have the extender set at 480P. When I set it at 720P or 1080i, the picture goes letterbox and it looks strage. 480P with Pan and Scan seems to be the only resolution that is friendly to my 4:3 HDTV.

    The remote is kind of cheap.

    I’m amazed at how small the unit is. I wonder if the v1 extenders had been this small if they would have caught on.

    I did have one issue. For a while, watching recorded TV or streaming live TV would freeze up the HTPC after about 20 minutes. A little digging on The Green Button again and it turned out updating the driver for my network card fixed it.

    We’re in the process of moving so I really don’t know what our new house we’ll be like, but my guess is that I’ll be getting at least one more of these. After a few days, I’m more than satisfied with this thing.

  4. Just got the HDMI cable in the mail today. I was using component. With the HDMI cable, picture is just as good as our primary television. The blue on the media center background is now a deep and rich blue, just like on our HTPC.

  5. You forgot that Zoom Mode #4 is not supported on the Extender for TV.

    Zoom Mode #4 is intelligent stretching of 4:3 content to 16:9 where it doesn’t just zoom in and chop off the top of the source, but stretches various areas of the image to achieve a better zoom look.

  6. Also missing: slideshow transitions when playing back photos (i.e. the random zoom/pan stuff). I really miss this, and I’m not sure why support for it wasn’t included – I can’t imagine it would tax even the humble hardware of the DMA2100/2200.

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