Linksys By Cisco Page 2


I've often said that a bad user interface can taint the whole experience of using a product. The Linksys system's main interface is the wireless touchscreen controller, and fortunately, it's a sweet one. The main menu pulls up a screen that reminded me of the toolbar used by Apple's OS X operating system. Its large, colorful icons flow by horizontally as you scroll through them, giving you access to Rhapsody, Radio Time (for local and Internet radio), a USB drive and an iPod (if connected), and the media stored on your PC. And tapping in the screen's upper right corner lets you select which zone you want to control.

The Linksys controller really differentiated itself from the Sonos model in two ways: First, the LCD is a touchscreen - a natural choice for searching and selecting music. If you see an artist, album, or song you like, touch the screen and it will come up. Second, it has five-way click-wheel controls similar to the iPod's. This combination of features makes the controller super-intuitive and not only easy, but a pleasure to use.

The touchscreen's virtual QWERTY keyboard proved especially useful when I was searching for a song, album, or artist in my media library or on Rhapsody. Unfortunately, you can't use the search function on a connected iPod; for that, you have to scroll manually through the music selections stored on it - a process that, depending on the amount of music on your iPod, can be frustratingly long.

Along with no I Pod search option, the controller's only real downside was its battery life - about 5 to 6 hours. This was especially problematic if I left it off the charger before leaving for work, which meant coming home to a dead controller. For a unit that will be carried around from room to room, id like to see it last a full day before a return trip to the charger is required.

In theory, the DMC250 Director's screen sounds like a great idea for local control, but I found it really frustrating to use. With a total of only four control buttons (Left, Right, OK, and Back), navigating the system was clunky. Linksys's DMRIR500 handheld IR remote, which can be used to control the Director and the Player, is handy for making quick volume or track changes or recalling one of the system's 10 possible Favorite playlists. But the DMRW10000 wireless controller is the real star of the show, and it will definitely be the remote control of choice. On the plus side, the Director's amplifier had plenty of power to full a room with sound, making it a great standalone system for bedrooms.

The systems' final control option is the Cisco Media Player application (part of the LELA software bundle), which lets you control the system from a networked computer. This program was easy to use and, depending on where your computer is located, could prove very useful.

Controlling the Linksys system is one thing, but actually using it to enjoy music is another. Here, unfortunately, performance was a mixed bag. Most times, the system worked as intended: I would select a song or album, and music would shortly start playing. But there were several occasions when I would select something and get one of the following messages: System Busy; Radio Time Error. Failed to Download; No Connection. Searching; or iPod Not Ready. Other times it would take forever to "fetch" the music I requested - nearly 2 minutes on occasion. I once spent 10 minutes trying to get music playing before finally giving up in frustration. Failure to play on command is a major strike against any music-distribution system.

Also, when streaming music - either from a USB drive, my iPod, or my computer - the audio sporadically paused, stuttered, or cut out altogether. Sometimes it would go hours without a hiccup; other times it happened almost every other song. The music usually returned within 3 to 10 seconds but sometimes took longer.

The system does offer a cool "Play To" or "Party" mode where music being played in one area can be sent to another. This feature worked great, although I didn't like the way music would stop playing in one zone as synchronization with the second took place.

Bottom Line

Linksys's Premiere wireless audio kit comes with a sweet touchscreen Wi-Fi controller, and the Director's color LCD screen looks cool. Plus, the optional, low-cost iPod dock offers a great way to incorporate this ubiquitous device. But with its lockups and audio dropouts, using this system wasn't always enjoyable. This was disappointing because, when the touchscreen did work, using it was such a great experience. Without question, Linksys knows networking, but audio distribution is clearly a tougher hurdle. And while these issues will likely be addressed with firmware updates (I experienced one major firmware update during my review that improved performance considerably), for now this system still has its quirks. At roughly the same price, it's difficult not to directly compare it with the Sonos. And with I definitely preferred the Linksys system's controller, Sonos's robust operation and additional features such as Napster, Pandora, and Sirius make it a clear winner … for now.