The LinkTheater can stream content from a Viiv server, your Windows Media Player library (using Windows Media Connect), or from its own MediaServer software and it will automatically search for any shared libraries on your network. To start playback or to view an image you simply navigate to the required library with the remote and pick what you want to play/view. Unfortunately menus are slow and prone to freezing and there is no finesse to any part of it – for instance, you can’t navigate your files by typing a letter on the remote so you have to scroll through the whole of you music collection to reach your Yngwie Malmsteen tracks. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything too sophisticated from a device like this but I would hope for a certain level of usability.
Ironically, I might have been more forgiving of the LinkTheater if the remote was as simple as the likes of the Apple Remote. OK, inputting network passwords and IP addresses would be more of a hassle but I’m sure an onscreen keyboard could do the job. As it stands, the remote has 44 buttons (or 46 if you count the volume/track rockers as two buttons) at least fifteen of which could be removed without affecting functionality and that’s not counting replacing the mobile phone style number/letter keys with an onscreen keyboard. It is also necessary for some buttons to be duplicated, apparently – who doesn't need two stop buttons? And, to round it all off, the buttons are the squishy rubber sort that are never pleasant to use. Generally there doesn’t seem to have been any improvement over the remote for the last LinkTheater that Riyad looked at.
Moving onto more positive points, I was able to get the LinkTheater to play most of the content I threw at it. Playback was generally smooth and, given the limitations of the connection options, of reasonable quality. However, even though the appropriate formats were supported the LinkTheater couldn’t keep up with the high bit rates of HD content and watching any became a complete stutterfest. This was definitely down to the video processing engine rather than a network bandwidth problem because even playing back video from a USB stick gave the same result.
The supplied MediaServer software is very easy to use and enables you to search your computer for media or specify folders for the software to monitor and you can also specify what devices can access the server. Overall though, I’d rather use Windows Media Player 11 to control my library and use Windows Media Connect to connect to the LinkTheater.
If the Buffalo LinkTheater Wireless-A&G was £50 I would forgive all its foibles and recommend it as a great purchase for anyone with an older TV that just wants a simple way to playback their media. However, it in fact costs around three times that amount making it difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. For £50 more you can get AppleTV, while if you're really serious, for £100 more you can get the likes of the Linksys KiSS 1600 which has a DVD drive, HDMI connectivity, and can playback HD and Internet radio - either of which look like better options.