Media Mogul: 3 Media Center PC Extenders Page 3

Taking It All with You While a WMC extender is always dependent on a networked PC, a Portable Media Center can be disconnected and used anywhere once you fill it up with TV shows, music, home videos, and photos. Weighing 10 1/4 ounces with a 3 1/2 -inch screen and mono speaker, the PMC-120 from iRiver has a 20-gigabyte (GB) hard drive that can hold up to 80 hours of video or 600 hours of music. (There's also the PMC-140 with a 40-GB drive for $600.) A single jack lets you send composite video and stereo audio to a TV over the supplied cable. The snap-in rechargeable battery provided power for 5 hours of video in my test, and iRiver says it's good for 14 hours of music. A spare battery is $20. media mogul - iriver

When I tried to use the PMC-120 with a PC running 2004 Edition WMC software, my recorded TV shows became unwatchable after transfer because of dropouts. Once linked to the new HP computer, the iRiver took about 20 minutes to convert and transfer a 1-hour TV recording, but it played without glitches. So be sure you're running the latest software.

On my subway ride home, I watched a perfect-looking episode of Joey, listening on the supplied earphones. Other passengers shot me the kind of stares I haven't seen since I carried the original iPod. Each press on the fast-forward button let me skip commercials in 30-second increments, and holding it down let me scan through a 1-hour show in about 7 seconds. That's performance! And just to prove how attractively cool the PMC-120 is, when I got home my technophobic wife grabbed it, perched it on its kickstand, and played Without a Trace as she checked her e-mail.

Bottom Line The benefits of a Media Center extender are substantial. People in different parts of the house can use the PC simultaneously to manage, record, and view their media files, and you can pick up a show you've started when you move to a different room. (Only one live TV show or FM broadcast can be shared across the network, though people in different rooms can be watching or listening to different parts of the same show since it's buffered to the PC's hard drive.)

If you own both a Media Center PC and an Xbox, or plan on adding the game console, go with the Xbox extender to multiply its functionality. If you want built-in wireless capabilities and the best A/V connections, go with the Linksys. And if you're bent on extending your media empire outside your home, iRiver's Portable Media Center can give you more quality TV time during plane trips, hotel stays, and daily commutes.

Of course, there's no reason you can't have it all. And now that I can move music, TV shows, movies, home videos, and photos just as easily from room to room as into the palm of my hand, I feel like the master of my own media domain. Who needs Rupert Murdoch or Michael Eisner to tell me when or where to watch what I want?

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