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Buffalo LinkTheater High-Definition: A Linux Multimedia Center from End to End - page 5

Introduction

  • April 13, 2006
  • By Dee-Ann and Robert LeBlanc

Buffalo was kind enough to send us a review model so that we could play with this appliance on our own network. Physically hooking the unit into our home entertainment system turned out to be pretty straightforward. The first minor snag was turning everything on and getting just a blank TV screen. It turned out that the unit comes set up by default to check S-Video and Composite, both of which are "older" forms of video connections. We have analog HDTV (Component video) and while the unit obviously supports this feature (hence the name), the unit doesn't look for analog HDTV right out of the box. Referring to the manual told us that pressing the TV Mode button would fix the problem, and viola, it did.

However, this is where the honeymoon got a bit shaky. This appliance doesn't have its own storage. Instead, it uses UPnP (Universal Plug-and-Play) as its only method for accessing media hosted on other machines on your network. Windows users can utilize the UPnP servers shipped on CD. However, free Linux support for UPnP is a shaky issue.

We tried the uShare server from GeeXboX with the abandoned UPnP library available from SourceForge. Once we finally managed to get the code from 2003 to compile against a modern kernel and launched the server, the LinkTheater High-Definition could see the shares we were offering but only the directories. No files inside.

Next we tried the Fedora Core 4 RPM available through the GeeXboX site and got the same results. After firing off a bug report to the folks at GeeXboX, we discovered that ushare is based on GmediaServer, so we downloaded that program and compiled it. Alas, the same problem appeared--or, really, didn't appear, no files, just directories. Another bug report sent on to another package maintainer.

After trying a third option, MediaTomb, and running into the exact same problem, we concluded that the issue was probably with the UPnP driver, libupnp. After passing this information on to the GmediaServer and uShare folks (since the UPnP SDK project appears to be defunct), we gave up on the free solutions. That was, until one of the Buffalo Technology staff members pointed out WizD, which is a Linux and Windows UPnP server that understands the LinkTheater High-Definition's "accent."

We downloaded both the Linux binary and the full distribution to get this working. Uncompress both, and then copy the Linux binary into the directory for the full distribution. Edit the wizd.conf file so that at the very least the document_root statement points to the location you have your multimedia files in, and then you can save the configuration file, make the wizd binary executable, and run it. Turn on your LinkTheater High-Definition and it will immediately see the Wizd UPnP server as available. This configuration file is well-commented, so you should be able to figure out how to alter other settings with little trouble. Just keep in mind that it's written for Windows users so some things like file paths will need to be altered from their suggested defaults.

When we turned our attentions to a commercial UPnP server, TwonkyMedia, we also found success. This product sells for around $18 for a year's license, and there is also a trial version that will let you use it for thirty minutes at a time, which is plenty of time for testing purposes. There is no need to tell the LinkTheater High Definition where the media servers are. It just finds them when you turn it on, listing them in the opening menu. From there, it's "just" a matter of navigating through to find the content we wanted to watch.

The word just is in quotes above because navigation is a bit of a pain. The remote itself requires precise pointing toward the unit and is a bit fussy, which can get irritating. Worse, though, is that if you have a lot of files in a single folder, there is no way to jump past the folders to the files, or to jump down a page or two at a time. You have to move down one folder or file at a time with the down button, and it takes about a second for each button press to go into effect with some UPnP servers, others (Wizd and TwonkyVision for example) react faster. Holding down the button does nothing, either. You really do have to move down one item at a time.

In particular, we ended up quite grateful that after the initial setup, there is little reason otherwise to go back to the setup menus. Navigation through these is also somewhat frustrating for those of us who are instant feedback, instant-gratification types. Rather than the arrow buttons on the remote working as you would expect in using the Tab key to move through a Web form (meaning that each tab moves you horizontally across rows and then drop down to the next line when there is nothing more on the row. Instead, the movement buttons took us in what felt like an inconsistent route, being literal about what was horizontally farther out or closer in when moving among buttons, options, and rows, making it impossible to predict where we would end up next.

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