X10 DVD Anywhere/MP3 Anywhere
Watch your favorite movies and listen to your favorite music from anywhere in the house
DVD Anywhere/MP3 Anywhere
The digital revolution has proven to be a wonderful playground for us media polyglots. I love that I can put most of my music collection on my computer and play anything I want with a few mouse clicks. It's the height of coolness that I can put a shiny disc--less than a tenth the volume of a videocassette--into my computer and watch movies with crystal clarity that won't degrade over time.

There is a problem, though, summed up in an old mantra: location, location, location. All this multimedia stuff is great, but the idea of watching Contact in my office is not appealing, and I don't have a DVD player for my television. Furthermore, while I like having thousands of songs at my fingertips while I'm working, I'd appreciate the same convenience even more when I'm elsewhere in the house.

I know, I know. I could just buy a DVD player and a 200-CD jukebox. But I'd rather spend the $800 or so on the movies and the music. I've already got the gadgetry; it's just that it's spread between two rooms.

X10 feels my pain. For the uninitiated, X10's main business is the selling and licensing of inexpensive and easy-to-use products which enable you to remotely control the electric devices in your house. In short, they have years of experience when it comes to creating devices for people who just have to have absolute control over everything electric in their homes.

Two of X10's recent products, MP3 Anywhere 2000 and DVD Anywhere 2000, are a bit of a departure from their usual fare, but they fit in with the company's twin themes of remote control and easy setup.

The basics are fairly simple: if you have a DVD Anywhere kit, connect the audio and video outputs from your computer to the cool-looking transmitter, and connect the cool-looking receiver to any television and/or sound system within 100 feet. The end result: any NTSC video coming out of the DVD-ROM and any audio from the sound card will be transmitted wirelessly to the receiver, which will happily pipe the signals to the aforementioned television and stereo. The MP3 Anywhere kit is almost identical; it just lacks any video jacks.

If you're a longtime Computer Paper reader, this setup might sound familiar to you: I wrote about a similar gadget, AITech's PC/TV AirLink, about three years ago. The principles are the same, and the transmitters and receivers are similar in design and construction.

The difference is in that X10 touch. First, there's the ease of installation: aside from the receiver and transmitter, the only other hookup is a small radio receiver which connects to a free serial port. The X10 Boom 2000 software setup is similarly hassle-free.

Next, there's the ease of use. Boom 2000 is really just a central control panel for your existing MP3, CD, and DVD software; it relays commands from the included MP3 Remote Control to the appropriate player. Boom 2000 maintains a list of your installed players automatically (it even updates the list when new software is installed on your system), so it's just a matter of selecting which player to use for a certain format.

So let's say everything's set up and I want to listen to my MP3s from somewhere else in the house. All I would have to do is start the Boom 2000 software, then press the PC, MP3, and power buttons on the MP3 Remote. This launches the selected MP3 player, which I can then control from the remote--which uses radio instead of infra-red, so I don't have to worry about line-of-sight. (If your home is like ours--that is, cluttered with remotes for various electronic doodads--take heart; the MP3 Remote can be programmed to recognize most VCRs, televisions, cable boxes, DVD players, satellite receivers, and, of course, X10 modules.)

The problems start when you decide to watch a movie. The transmitter and receiver do a good job of beaming video to your TV, but bear in mind that the output is only as good as your computer's video out. When I used the ATI All-in-Wonder AGP card, I had to fiddle extensively with the brightness, contrast, and color controls to get my image to look just right. It's doubly aggravating that DVD Anywhere can't handle S-Video.

The real flaw lies in the Boom 2000 software which, despite its claims, doesn't acknowledge any DVD player software except the X10 Media Player (the Windows Media Player, by any other name)--which, with my DVD-ROM setup, dutifully played the disc's audio but displayed no video. After going back with X10's technical support for a considerable amount of time, a representative finally acknowledged that this is an issue which needs resolving; a revamp of the software is promised to arrive soon. However, given the five weeks that elapsed between my first phone call reporting this problem (with the previous iteration of the Boom software) and this promise, I'm not terribly encouraged.

There is a similar problem with playing CDs: only the X10 Media Player is acknowledged as a CD player. However, since most MP3 players also handle CDs, this is a non-issue. In the meantime, the lack of reliable DVD playback is a serious flaw, and I'm surprised that X10 could let something with a large glitch like that out the door. Once the bugs are ironed out, DVD Anywhere could be a nice solution for people who want to watch movies from any TV in the house; MP3 Anywhere certainly indicates that when it does work, it will continue X10's tradition of cheap, fast, and easy remote control. Until then, DVD Anywhere is nothing but a serious misnomer.

Originally appeared in The Computer Paper (June 2000)