Setting up the media adapter is complicated, but the included quick-install guide breaks the process into a series of simple tasks. First, you connect the device to your computer using an Ethernet cable and run the setup CD, which walks you through network configuration. You could do this through the TV, but it's more awkward that way. Next, you'll need to load the Media Adapter Utility onto your PC. For this, you'll need Microsoft's .Net framework, which became a standard part of the Windows XP OS only recently. The setup CD automatically checks your computer and installs .Net, if necessary. Last, you use the Media Adapter Utility to tell the device where your pictures and music are stored on the PC.
When everything's set, it's time to plug in the media adapter to the stereo and TV. If your stereo and TV are placed far apart, you may need to buy an extension cable. Once connected, the media adapter's menu appears automatically on the TV screen. Other media adapters and digital audio receivers hit the market earlier this year, but the cd3o is the only direct competitor we've reviewed that fully integrates itself into an existing wireless LAN, while others such as the Lyra Wireless RCA RD900W and the X10 Lola are more limited as far as networking goes. Even the cd3o fails to offer the flexibility and easy LAN integration you'll get with the WMA11B.
The media adapter's vertical profile and compact size (1.97 inches wide by 6.3 inches deep by 7.48 inches tall) make it easy to tuck into a small space. A set of LEDs on its front show network activity. Along the back are all of the connectors, a Reset (to default settings) button, and an uplink button that toggles the Ethernet port between MDI and MDIX cable settings.
The Wireless-B media adapter's remote is fairly intuitive. Select either the Pictures or the Music button to access the content folders on your PC. Image and music files can be retrieved simultaneously. You hit the Setup button to check the media adapter's wireless and network settings and make changes with the onscreen keyboard. You may find it awkward to navigate the keyboard and select characters using the remote's arrow buttons, though.
The remote makes it easy to play media files on your TV or stereo.
The media adapter cannot address all of your music needs. The Utility can access content on external drives, but it can't play audio CDs. The Media Adapter won't process WAV audio files, video of any kind, or Internet radio, though Linksys is considering these features for future upgrades.
The media adapter can join a Wi-Fi network that uses 64- or 128-bit WEP encryption, but it does not support the more advanced WPA standard. Then again, no other product in this developing category offers WPA, either. Linksys plans to support WPA later this year through a free firmware upgrade. Also, the device won't work with most firewalls, including Windows XP's. In CNET Labs' tests, the Linksys Wireless-B media adapter achieved 5.3Mbps maximum throughput, putting it on a par with the best 802.11b devices. Its 100-foot range gives it an operational zone of more than 30,000 square feet--plenty for the typical home or apartment. As range increases, however, the media adapter's throughput will decrease, and you should expect compromised audio quality at the fringes of its range. In our informal tests, the media adapter connected without a hitch to seven different Wi-Fi devices and continued to send an uninterrupted audio stream while the others were sending and receiving data. The composite-video link produced fuzzy viewing of still photographs, but the S-Video connection was pinpoint perfect, and the audio was static-free.
The media adapter is definitely a resource hog, though. The computer running the Media Adapter Utility occasionally hit peaks of 100 percent memory use, and we also noted 70 percent CPU-use spikes.
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software with Chariot 4.4 Endpoints as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and the routers are set up to transmit at various distances from the access point and to automatically select the best transmit speed. All tests are run with Chariot software using TCP and are run in our CNET offices over channel 1. Our tests indicate the range that you can expect in a typical office environment, but range in your own home or office may differ. You may be able to achieve better performance in situations where you can establish a clear line of sight. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site. The Wireless-B media adapter's service-and-support policies could be better for the price. The media adapter comes with lifetime, 24/7 phone and e-mail support, but its one-year warranty is much shorter than the three years' coverage that Linksys offers on most of its wireless products. At least the Linksys Web site has plenty to offer, from manuals and firmware updates to troubleshooting, warranty info, and online product registration.