Wireless Media Products Announced

By Eric Griffith

July 14, 2003

UPDATE: Both Linksys and SMC have announced 'media networking products' meant to bring video and/or audio stored on your computers to the screens and speakers in your living room.

You've got a hard drive full of MP3 and maybe even a few MPEG and other digital video files (we won't ask where you got them). But watching them in the comfort of your computer room at home an that slightly-less-than-ergonomic desk chair doesn't come close to the relaxation you'd have watching them from your living room recliner. Sure, you could invest in an expensive media center PC to feed the media files to your entertainment center, but now new alternatives are emerging that not only will stream it for you, they'll do it without requiring cutting through walls to string Ethernet cable.

In the past week, home networking companies Linksys (now a division of Cisco Systems ) and SMC Networks have both introduced wireless multimedia products meant to stream your computers' media files to the living room.

SMC's EZ-Stream Universal Wireless Multimedia Receiver (model SMCWMR-AG) connects to the wired network as well as the wireless. For Wi-Fi, it supports dual-bands, either 5GHz 802.11a or 2.4Ghz 802.11g -- both use the higher speed of 54Mbps, which many pundits feel is more than adequate for viewing video over. The unit sits at the entertainment center where it connects via audio/visual cables to the television and stereo receiver.

SMC expects to also offer up other dual-band EZ-Stream products, including a cable/DSL router, a CardBus adapter, and a USB adapter for desktop computers. No pricing is available for any of the EZ-Stream line; the Multimedia Receiver should be available this month.

Linksys does have pricing for its Wireless-B Media Adapter (model WMA11B). The $199 product, also shipping this month, lets you listen to music files and browse slide-shows of your digital still pictures -- but it uses the slower (11Mbps) speeds of 802.11b (or, again, Ethernet if you're already wired for it) and thus doesn't do streaming video. A Linksys spokes person says that until the Quality of Service standard to come with 802.11e is available, the company doesn't feel customers will see the value of video on wireless. The WMA11b will use regular a/v cables or S-Video to connect to a television. Linksys expects to have special support on the unit for play-lists generated on music services and software like Listen.com and MusicMatch. And the unit comes with an infrared remote control (we all need another).

These wireless media adapters may be new to these companies, but it's not a new category of product. Prismiq has been selling a set-top video box with the same functions called MediaPlayer for some time. The $249.99 MediaPlayer uses an inserted PC Card to get wireless, and recently announced an upgrade with support for select 802.11g cards.

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