Acoustic Research MediaBridge DMP3000

The Short Form
$349 / 17 x 10 x 2 IN / www.araccessories.com / 800-276-0509
Plus
•Simple menu-driven setup. •Compatible with high-resolution photos and video.
Minus
•Incompatible with programs recorded on Windows Media Center Edition PCs.
Key Features
•Streams video, music, and photos from networked PCs to your HDTV and music system •Built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi •outputs DVI; component video; coaxial and optical digital audio; composite video with stereo analog audio
With digital music, megapixel slideshows, and high-def video increasingly being captured and stored on computers, network-savvy media receivers have the potential to earn serious respect as source components for your HDTV and surround sound system. No longer hobbled by low-rez video outputs, the latest media receivers promise to show off your flat-panel TV and sound system without apology. That's the claim of the Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge, a sleek network receiver designed to unleash the pent-up content from computers, typically in other rooms, for enjoyment on your main system.

SETUP Besides a composite-video/stereo audio cable, AR supplies component-video and optical digital audio cables for connection to your HDTV and surround system. You can use your own Ethernet cable or the supplied Wi-Fi antenna to link it to your network router, though a wired connection is required for streaming HD video. You can also hook the Bridge directly to your PC (no Mac support) with a crossover cable.

After wiring the MediaBridge into my network, I installed its software on my networked Acer notebook running Windows XP. Then I turned on the receiver and followed the setup wizard to configure it. The MediaBridge instantly located my computer. Later, when I tried the wireless connection, it quickly found my Wi-Fi (802.11g) router.

You can also connect an iPod to the USB port on the rear panel and use it as your music source. Or you can install the Media­Bridge software on any number of computers on your network and do things like stream music from the PC in the bedroom and pictures from the one in the den. Media­Bridge supports JPEG and BMP images and MP3, WAV, and (non-copy-protected) WMA music files. AR says a software upgrade will be available online in early 2006 to let you stream copy-protected WMA files.

PERFORMANCE Connected by Ethernet cable, the MediaBridge performed admirably, delivering to the accompaniment of my favorite seafaring music a slideshow of coastal Maine that I shot last summer. I successfully streamed standard- and high-def video, too. The HDTV programs, recorded off the air on a computer with a DTV tuner card, were indistinguishable from a typical high-def broadcast. The movie Catch Me If You Can looked every bit as vibrant as the original broadcast when I streamed it to my home theater. And once I went wireless, MediaBridge was able to perform all the same feats except streaming HDTV. A button on the remote lets you skip ahead of commercials.

Unfortunately, MediaBridge doesn't support video files in the proprietary MS-DVR format that Windows Media Center Edition computers use to record TV shows. But AR does expect to provide an online upgrade that will let you stream movies to your computer from download services like CinemaNow and Movielink. On the other hand, MediaBridge is compatible with the MPEG-1/2/4 and WMV video formats.

BOTTOM LINE If you expect to use MediaBridge to play songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, you'll be disappointed, but WMA files from sites like Napster and Yahoo should work with the promised upgrade. You'll also be disappointed if you try to play TV shows recorded by a Windows Media Center PC. However, in the larger world of tuner cards, rip-your-own CDs, free video downloaded from the Internet, home video transferred from a camcorder, and digital photos, a MediaBridge is the only thing you need between your home network and HDTV.

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