Ed Driscoll

Won't Get Fooled Again (Until The Next Time)

While I was busy installing a new A/V receiver, I figured I’d also install what’s frequently called “a media bridge”, to allow me to play all of the Windows Media files on my computer in glorious 7.1 surround sound, rather than the small speakers of my PC. I had actually purchased a D-Link DSM-320 and a few days later, it was still sitting in the box, ready to be installed when I picked up the issue of PC Magazine devoted to video on the Web, that I had previously mentioned here.

They gave the D-Link unit so-so reviews, but raved about BuffaloTech’s LinkTheater High Definition Wireless Media Player, giving the issue’s editor’s choice award. OK, I can take a hint: the D-Link unit went back to Best Buy, and since they didn’t have the BuffaloTech player, I drove down the road to Micro Center and bought it.

Boy, that was fun: it took forever to get the unit to talk to my computer, but I expected this segment of the process to be finicky. Once I did get them talking, that part worked great: the BuffaloTech unit and the A/V receiver sounded dynamite together, and my Windows Media audio files never sounded better.

But the BuffaloTech unit also comes with a progressive scan DVD player, and I thought–well, I’ll kill two birds with one stone: I’ll make this my primary DVD player, one that I can also play Windows Media through.

So I popped in a DVD to test it out. It wouldn’t play. Would. Not. Play. Wouldn’t detect the disc; it just ground to a halt.

So I got on the phone to BuffaloTech HQ in Austin, Texas. While they advertise 24 hour tech support, at 1:00 AM on a Sunday morning, there’s either one guy manning the phone’s who’s very busy (probably dealing with other LinkTheater purchasers), or he’s off visiting the local Burger King, or he’s asleep.

So after about a half-hour or so, I bailed and called again during the day. Other than hearing the exact same on-hold music as the night before (much as I love Dave Brubeck’s classic Time Out album (the one with “Take Five”), knowing you’ll be hearing it endlessly while on-hold somewhat ruins the experience), that part worked great: quickly got somebody who was knowledgeable, friendly, and suggested I upgrade the firmware and see if that would get the DVD player working. And it did. Yay!

So I spent each night for the next week happily watching DVDs. Except…at least once, each disc would fast-forward several frames. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Black Rain each seemed particularly affected, speeding up several times during the movie. But no disc seemed completely immune: Capt. Kirk would skip a word here and there. Dr. Zhivago would lurch forward once or twice during the movie wildly while gesturing. Audio would occasionally speed-up, then resume normal speed.

Last night I picked up a new copy of Lost In Translation at Borders. Virgin, pristine, right out of the shrink-wrap. And about halfway through, it did the same thing. And nobody messes with Bill Murray in town! (To paraphrase one of the good Dr. Venkman’s great riffs in Ghostbusters.

This afternoon, I was on the phone to Austin again. They told me there was nothing they could suggest, other than take the unit back and get a refund. So I did, thinking it was a bum drive, and I get another unit. Micro Center was out of stock, but I looked on Amazon to see if they sold the unit.

They did. But one of their customer reviews had this to say:

Some weird glitches. About 8 minutes into “Liar Liar” Jim Carrey started walking twice as fast and speaking really quickly in a high-pitch. I tried watching several times and the same thing happened at the same point in the movie every time.

And that happened to me as well: each weird speed-up would repeat exactly. (In retrospect, I noticed several of the other glitches this fellow was referring to, but they weren’t as severe as the intermittent speed-up/dropped frames thing.)

Does that mean that every unit has this problem, or that PC Magazine hyped a faulty product? In both cases, probably not–the tech support person said that he hadn’t heard of any similar cases, and the magazine review obviously didn’t mention anything about it. But that was more than enough for me to move to multimedia plan B.

Which is? I’ll tell you in a few days. This could be interesting.

Update: Faster than a speeding bullet! The same night a week and a half ago that I couldn’t get the DVD play to work, I first emailed a request for tech support to BuffaloTech before eventually calling. The response to that email arrived in Outlook today (2/9/06). Speedy, guys!