Gear Review: Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard

Several years ago, Rush’s Alex Lifeson partnered with Gibson Guitars to create the Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess. The specs for these guitars looked amazing, but they had a limited production run, and the starting price tag of $5,499 was more than cost-prohibitive for most guitarists. Shortly thereafter, Gibson released the Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess, which had an even more limited production run, and a heftier starting price tag of $6,699. Needless to say, few guitarists could scrape together that kind of cash, regardless of how amazing the guitars were.

But then a strange thing happened at the January 2020 NAMM show: an Epiphone version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess turned up rather unexpectedly among the collection of other guitars that Epiphone had on display. The following video from the great folks at Andertons Music Company shows a pair of reviewers who stumble across the guitar (which occurs at 16:47 in the video). This unofficial announcement generated a fair amount of chatter within the guitar community, based on the assumption that there might be an affordable version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess released sometime in the future. However, COVID19 turned the year upside down, and news of this guitar faded away into the background while everyone was focused on the pandemic.

After a year-and-a-half of silence about this guitar, Alex Lifeson broke the news on his website on June 15th, 2021, that Epiphone had finally released the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard; which promptly sold out everywhere in the country. Nevertheless, I managed to get my hands on one, which arrived last Saturday, and I'll be using it for today's review.

Alex-Lifeson-headstock-FINAL-1024x683

Anyone who's been reading my blogs knows that I am a sold-out, card-carrying fanboy for Rush, but this guitar has several features that set it apart from other guitars on the market. With that in mind, even the guitarists who don't like Rush might want to take a moment to consider this guitar if they're in the market for a new axe. (And let's be honest, that includes just about every guitarist, doesn't it?)

Since its arrival, I've been putting it through the paces, and here are the big ticket items that people should know about.

Graph Tech Floyd Rose Bridge with Piezo Pickups

This guitar has the Graph Tech Floyd Rose bridge. There are a few Les Pauls with Floyd Rose bridges, so while that might not seem unique, here's the differentiator: the Graph Tech bridge has piezo pickups built into it, so at the flick of a knob, you're an acoustic, or an electric, or both at the same time. And the sound is amazing.

alex-lifeson-axcess_front

ProBucker™ humbucker Pickups

The stock pickups for the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard are Epiphone's ProBucker™ pickups, which designed as an homage the classic Gibson PAF pickups, and the sound is quite good. I compared it against a set of Seymour Duncan Invader pickups that I have in a modded Les Paul, and I have to admit - the ProBuckers seemed to hold their own pretty well.

epiphone-probucker-clipped

Split Coil Pickup Switching

The traditional bridge and neck pickups are configured so that pulling up on the volume knob for either pickup splits the coils, so you can switch from a double-coil humbucker sound to a single-coil sound while playing. In other words, it's a Les Paul that can sound like a Strat, or a Les Paul, or a combination of the two.

With that in mind, the range of pickup configuration possibilities are: full-bridge only, half-bridge only, full-bridge with full-neck, half-bridge with full-neck, full-bridge with half-neck, half-bridge with half-neck, full-neck only, half-neck only, piezo only, or piezo blended with any of the other full/half pickup configurations.

alex-lifeson-axcess-hardware-500_500

Separate Output Jacks

The guitar has two output jacks. If you use a single output jack, then the piezo and humbuckers are wired through that. However, if you use the second output jack, you can send the piezo and humbuckers to separate effects/amps, thereby allowing you to craft a totally different sound for each output.

Sculpted Body Design

The Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard features a traditional arched top of flame maple over a mahogany body, which should be familiar to anyone who's played a Les Paul. However, another feature that sets this guitar apart from the competition is that the neck and back have been sculpted like a Strat, which makes it easier to reach highest frets, and it makes the guitar a pound or two lighter, and it's also the most comfortable Les Paul you've ever played.

alex-lifeson-axcess-back-neck-500_500

Thankfully this guitar didn't have the traditional Les Paul pickguard attached, which most guitarists remove and toss in the recycle bin anyway.

Final Touch

It might seem like a small detail to have, but this is a signature edition, so it was nice to see that the truss rod cover carried Alex's signature (just like the Gibson model).

alex-lifeson-axcess-neck-side-500_500

A Kind of Demo

I tried to find a video on YouTube of Alex Lifeson switching back and forth between the humbuckers and piezo pickups, but every video that I found where Alex was playing one of his Custom Gibson Les Paul Axcess guitars he was only using the humbuckers.

However, I did manage to find a video where Alex was playing one of his older Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitars that had a similar setup with humbuckers and piezo pickups. With that in mind, consider the first minute of the following live video where Rush is playing their song "Driven," which should give you an idea of what you can do with this concept. On the verses, Alex is just using the humbuckers for the electric sound. On the pre-choruses, it's just the piezos for the acoustic sound. On the choruses, you can hear the humbuckers and piezo pickups layered, which adds a huge amount of depth to the wall of sound that Alex is creating.

So... yes, I am aware that the video has Alex playing a PRS, not a Les Paul. Gibson designed Alex's Custom Les Pauls a few years after that video was created. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, this should give you an idea of what you can do with this guitar.

Parting Thoughts

I was glad that I was able to get my hands on one of these guitars for a review before they were sold out. (Although I expect that there will be more guitars hitting the market before too long.)

That being said, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is an incredibly versatile guitar. If I were to have any second thoughts about this guitar they would be pretty minor.

For example, if I were buying one of these guitars today, I would much prefer the Royal Crimson finish featured on the Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess, or the "R40" Ruby finish featured on the Gibson Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess. However, as of this writing, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is only available in Viceroy Brown finish, which is reminiscent of the classic Gibson Tobacco Sunburst finish.

One last nitpick is a personal preference: I prefer Gibson Speed knobs over the Gold Top Hat knobs that come with this guitar. But as I said, that is a minor, personal preference, so I cannot count that against the guitar. Nevertheless, if I had this guitar and the inclination, that’s a mod that I would probably make.

All in all, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is a great guitar that could easily find a home in any guitarist's arsenal. Even if they're not a Rush fan.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

After months of sequestration due to the Wuhan/COVID19 Pandemic of 2020, my wife and I decided to catch a movie. Sadly, however, the feature that we chose to see was Wonder Woman 1984. I'll provide more details in a moment, but for now let me summarize my opinion of this motion picture: I would give it a C- for a grade, although on a scale of 1 to 10 I'd probably give this sorry cinematic offering a 3.

ww84-w-logo-rating

WARNING!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!! (You have been warned.)

As I just mentioned, there are several major spoilers in this post, so quit reading if you haven't seen it. With that being said, here is my list of gripes from this thoroughly pedestrian movie:

  • The film was easily 30 minutes too long. Part of the cause for that excessive running time are the numerous and boring fight scenes that drag on and on and on and on and on and on...
  • Bringing back Chris Pine's "Steve Trevor" character was a ridiculous plot point, and served no purpose other than getting Chris Pine back on the screen.
  • Seriously, Wonder Woman - it's been 70 years since Steve Trevor died and you come from a land where men are unnecessary; you really need to move on already. Pining over Chris Pine (pun intended) just makes you look weak.
  • Chris Pine's fashion show of 80s-era clothing had no point whatsoever and could easily have been cut to reduce screen length. And the fanny pack should have served a real purpose and/or saved the day at some point during the movie - that would have actually been funny, which is probably why DC missed that opportunity.
  • What happened to the hapless dolt when Steve Trevor took over his body? How did he come back? Does he know that someone else was using his body for several days while injuring it in fights and having sex while using it? Isn't this more than immoral and really kind of gross?
  • Wait - Wonder Woman can fly now? With no wings? And no invisible airplane? Who writes this crap?
  • There is NO WAY that a jet fighter can fly from the USA to Egypt on a single tank of gas - that plane would have gone down over the ocean and both Wonder Woman & Steve Trevor would have been dead and the movie would have been over.
  • Somehow DC hasn't figured out Marvel's way to make an action movie with superheroes that has actual humor, so every attempt at a joke falls flat and the trailer for the movie steals all the best scenes.
  • This movie was another offering from DC where the entire world is largely destroyed, and and yet no one is held responsible and everyone's lives are happy again in the very next scene.
  • 1984 had to have been chosen as the year when this movie takes place due to George Orwell's famous novel of the same name, but ultimately this film has nothing to do with Orwellian themes, and as a result its title and setting are nothing more than a cheap stunt at getting butts in seats with instant name familiarization and periodic 80s nostalgia.
  • Whatever happened to the "Dreamstone" after Pedro Pascal's "Max Lord" character renounced his wish? That was a MAJOR plot hole.
  • Wait - there's a broadcasting system that can simultaneously take over all of the communication systems across the entire planet?
  • Somehow Wonder Woman was able to convince the ENTIRE PLANET to renounce their wishes at the same time? And for some reason they all spoke English? I have three words for that: Deus Ex Machina.
  • A far more realistic ending would have been for the world to revert itself after Max Lord renounced his wish.

I could go on and on about all of the major issues that I found with this film, but I should end my thoughts about my experience seeing this movie by saying one thing positive: the Red Vines licorice that I consumed during the movie was great.

Flight Simulator 2020: First Impressions

I've been a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) since it was first introduced. (Or even earlier if you count SubLogic Flight Simulator that preceded it.) I have owned every version of MSFS, and I usually rushed out to buy each version when it hit the stores.

flight-simulator-box-shots-mosaic

I would have to say, though, that my favorite version had been Flight Simulator X (FSX), which was released in 2006 - the levels of detail and realism were amazing. Unfortunately, FSX was the final version of MSFS. Microsoft chose to unceremoniously kill off MSFS in 2009, and like every other MSFS fanboy, I was quite upset to see it fade into the sunset. There were a few failed attempts to breathe life into the franchise via Microsoft's Flight and Steam's rerelease of Flight Simulator for their gaming platform, but each offering fell far short of the goal.

fsx-box

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard the news that Microsoft was reviving the series with Flight Simulator 2020, which promised unbelievable video quality and unparalleled realism. As I had done with every previous version of MSFS, I bought FS2020 on the day of its release and installed it immediately. As soon as the installation was done, I launched the application to see - nothing. MSFS displayed a message to inform me that my GeForce 9800 GTX video card was not powerful enough to run FS2020.

This was disappointing, to say the least, but I wasn't too worried - because I had already purchased an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 video adapter for my computer. However, I had too many tasks competing for my limited time, so I had to delay the installation of my new video card. That being said - today was the day! I powered down my system, swapped out the old video card for the new card, and rebooted. As soon as the operating system was up and running, I launched FS2020 and was excited to see - nothing. Well, not exactly nothing; what I saw were two error messages:

msfs2020-connection-lost-please-ensure-you-have-an-internet-connection
Connection Lost - Please ensure you have an active internet
connection, and check the forums for additional information.

-and-

msfs2020-access-to-the-content-servers-is-unavailable
Access to the content servers is currently unavailable. Please
ensure you have an active internet connection, and try again later.
Please visit https://flightsimulator.zendesk.com/ for additional information.

Unfortunately, those error messages sent me into an endless loop that always resulted in my seeing these same messages again and again; and since there was no other way to exit the application, I had to hard kill FS2020 using the Windows Task Manager. I followed the advice from the error messages and I checked the forums, where I found the following two threads that described my exact situation:

I tried everything that was suggested in both of those threads (as well as suggestions from several other forum threads and blog posts), but so far - no luck. I still have yet to see anything from MSFS2020, but I'll keep looking.

Annoyed

With that in mind, here are my first impressions of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020:

  • Game Experience = I have no idea. I have yet to see the actual game.
  • Installation Experience = terrible. The minimum requirements are excessive, and when an end user can't get a game to run as soon as they're done installing it, that's a catastrophic failure for which the game designer is solely responsible.
  • Troubleshooting Experience = terrible. End users are pretty much on their own when something fails. Microsoft's single troubleshooting recommendation is for users to check the forums, which is way below par for a major software product from a major software company.

On a related side note, I installed MSFS2020 using the Microsoft Store application for Windows 10. That app is relatively easy to use, but it could be a lot better in my opinion; I often find myself highly annoyed at how difficult it is to find apps that I know have been released and install them.

Movie Review: Radioactive

Marie Curie is one of the most-brilliant physicists and chemists in the history of science. She was a pioneering woman who was years ahead of her time, and her life deserves a biopic in tribute to her genius that is equally as brilliant as she was. Sadly, Amazon's 2020 release of Radioactive is not that biopic.

WARNING!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!! (You have been warned.)

To be perfectly honest, I looked forward with great anticipation for this film to be released. Marie Curie's many contributions to science and humanity are almost legendary, and Rosamund Pike is a brilliant actress who is capable of reading the dictionary and making it sound wonderful. However, this movie isn't terrible because it lacks a strong female role model from history, nor is this movie terrible because it lacks an equally strong actress to play the lead character, nor is this movie terrible because it lacks an impressive set of actors to play the periphery characters, nor is this movie terrible because it lacked an acceptable script. The primary reason this movie is terrible is because it was guided by a director, Marjane Satrapi, who was apparently preoccupied with trying to create a work of "art" at the expense of the story that she should have been telling.

Here is one perfect example of useless "artsy" direction: after the tragic and untimely death of Marie's husband, Pierre, there is a long dream sequence with bizarre imagery that resembles one of the many LSD/acid trip scenes from Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic The Doors. While I admit that it was essential to Marie's story to include various scenes that depict her extreme grief after Pierre's death, this dream sequence had no place in the film. For this travesty of screen time I fully blame the director.

Here is another example of useless "artsy" direction: at several times throughout the film, the scene would suddenly jump several decades into the future from Marie's timeline in order to show how radiation was used after her death. Examples shown were both for good (e.g. radiation therapy for cancer patients), and for evil (e.g. atomic bombs and Chernobyl). These scenes were supposed to convey the eventual impact of Marie's discoveries, but the jarring way in which the story jumped around on screen made no sense at all. All of those scenes would have been better suited as some sort of visual epilogue that discussed the long-term results of Marie's efforts, which should also have included nuclear power as one of the many positive benefits. (See FOONOTE below.)

And here is yet another example of useless "artsy" direction: near the end of the movie, Marie finally succumbs to her years of radiation poisoning, and viewers are treated with a nonsensical scene of Marie walking through various hospitals of the future to visit the eventual victims of radioactivity's many ills. However, this scene wasn't as "artsy" as the director undoubtedly intended. On the contrary, this scene was just... silly. It had no emotional impact, it didn't serve the plot, and it really had no place in this film.

One of the main arguments that I have with this movie is the fact that far too many scenes play fast and loose with history. As with all Hollywood biopics, scenes are added, or shown out of order, or lack their historical impact. For example, the movie depicts Marie being offered her late husband's teaching position at the University of Paris, which was a first for a woman and certainly significant from a historical perspective. However, Marie had already been teaching for several years at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris; a position she earned through her own merits, which is far more impressive than assuming the position that her deceased husband had previously occupied. An emotionally gripping scene from the film is a vicious argument that ensues after Pierre travels to Stockholm to accept their Nobel Prize without Marie, which is notoriously and negligently inaccurate; both Pierre and Marie traveled to Stockholm, therefore the entire argument scene is nothing but a fabrication for dramatic effect, and grossly unfair to Pierre's public memory.

Another point of contention is that this movie begins too far into Marie's career, and completely glosses over her early years of struggle to enter a university and earn her degrees at a time when such things were nearly impossible for a woman to achieve. These are important pieces from Marie's story that should have been portrayed, but those parts of her past were completely ignored by this film in order to advance scenes that were ridiculously unnecessary - such as Pierre's obsession with spiritualism and séances. (Those scenes were useless to the story and had silly-looking and unnecessary special effects; e.g. ectoplasm portrayed as green electrical sparks. This movie wasn't supposed rip off scenes from Ghost Busters.)

If I were one of Marie's descendants, I think I would have been offended at the consistently selfish behavior that Marie's character consistently displayed. Granted, I never met Marie Curie, nor have I read any correspondence from her, nor have I met anyone who met her. Perhaps she was a selfish person who spent her entire life obsessed with nothing but personal gain. However, this movie had a scene in which Marie's children entered her bedchamber while she was having an affair. In this scene, Marie's only reaction was to ask her children if they wanted her to feed them, otherwise they needed to get lost. This scene and several like it destroy the chances that today's young women would look to Marie as any sort of heroic figure to emulate.

To give benefit of the doubt, this film's portrayal of Marie as a selfish and combative creature might have been someone's half-hearted attempt to show a strong female character. However, there is a world of difference between showing strength and being a narrow-minded, self-absorbed jackass, and this movie tended to lean way too far toward the jackass side of the behavior spectrum where Marie was concerned.

In a way, this movie has a hard time finding an audience; the history is far too bad to be useful to anyone who is interested in studying about the life of Marie Curie. In addition, if I were an educator, the protracted scenes of sex and nudity would prevent me from being able to display this movie to students. Which is too bad, because the world needs more girls to be interested in STEM subjects, and this movie threw away a perfect opportunity to help out in that endeavor.

With another director at the helm, and with a better script that delved more into Marie's history, Amazon might have been able to produce a wonderful mini-series about Marie Curie's life. Instead, this director and the accompanying script produced little more than a two-hour gap in my life that I will never get back.


FOOTNOTE:

On a personal level, I found it morally reprehensible that the director, Marjane Satrapi, kept jumping back and forth between Pierre's acceptance speech for his Nobel prize to scenes of the Enola Gay dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The director's intention is perfectly clear: each time Pierre suggests how a "criminal" might use radioactivity, the story jumps to the scenes of the Enola Gay. There is no mistaking the director's meaning here: she is accusing the United States of war crimes.

I find it highly doubtful that anyone involved with this film was alive when World War II had been raging for six years, (or eight years if you include Japan's bloody invasion of China). By 1945, the war had already cost the world around 70 million lives. (See Fallen.io for a breakdown of how the number of deaths were obtained and how casualty estimates were distributed across the planet.)

If Japan hadn't surrendered, the war would have raged on for years, costing millions of additional lives. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of Japanese lives. (See Operation Downfall for details on how costly the inevitable invasion of Japan would have been in terms of casualties; both allied and Japanese.)

This miniature history lesson is outside the scope of a movie review, although it is certainly indicative of the director's continued obsession with playing it fast and loose with history, while also taking a moment to cram her close-minded and naïve opinions down her viewers' throats. Shame on you, Marjane Satrapi. You're not just a bad director and bad student of history, you're apparently a pretty rude person, too.

Verizon versus T-Mobile

For several years I was a loyal T-Mobile customer. I loved their service. I paid one simple price per month, which included unlimited data, unlimited texting, built-in tethering, and a generous amount of voice calling. In addition to that, their service allowed for travelling overseas with your cell phone at no extra cost; carrying your cell phone out of the country was simply covered by your plan.

There was only one fatal problem which I ran into that made me have to change carriers: I had no cell phone coverage in my home office. This was a deal-breaker for me. I have two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for work and most of the websites where 2FA is available, so having no coverage in my office meant that I had to login initially for work or a website on my computer, then walk outside and stand in my backyard until I received the call or text message to complete the authentication process. This was obviously unacceptable, so I begrudgingly realized that I would have to change carriers; which was really too bad, since T-Mobile worked great for me when I lived in Seattle.

So my wife and I started shopping around between the different carriers; e.g. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, etc. Eventually we decided to go with Verizon since their coverage seemed to be the best. However, once the honeymoon period of having cell phone coverage in my office had passed, I realized the shocking revelation of just how expensive Verizon could be.

As I mentioned earlier, T-Mobile was a flat fee which was reasonably-priced and provided lots of great features at a low cost which easily beat the competition.

Verizon, on the other hand, wants to charge you for everything. They have found dozens of ways to exceed the airline industry by nickle-and-diming its customers for everything on their phones. You want Caller ID? You'll have to pay for that. You want to use your phone overseas for a few weeks? Prepare to pay hundreds of dollars. You want to use data services on your phone? Prepare to pay through the nose. You want to use tethering with your laptop/tablet? That'll be another $50 or so for two phones. Pretty much any feature on your phone comes at an additional cost.

In addition to the exorbitant fees, for some reason which I have never been able to ascertain, using Verizon for the same data services which I used on T-Mobile required around four times the amount of data. Before I switched carriers, I saw that I was using about 1GB of data per month for the apps that I use; e.g. email, FB, streaming, etc. So when I switched to Verizon, I went with a 2GB plan just to be safe. But I used that up almost immediately, and I quickly upgraded to a 4GB plan. But that was also used up pretty quickly, and I changed to an 8GB plan. Of course, each data service upgrade increased my costs yet again, so cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching... The next thing I know I'm paying Verizon two or three times what I paid for T-Mobile services, with less features.

Oh, and one more thing: on our first-month bill, my wife and I had a huge data usage the first day. This might seem normal because of downloading apps to a new phone and such, but when I looked at the per-hour breakdown on my bill of data usage, the largest part of the data usage happened before I was actually given the phone. After my wife and I had picked out our phones, the sales guy at the Verizon store said that it was going to take a little while to get things set up, so my wife and I agreed to head out to lunch and run some other errands and return to pick up our phones later that afternoon. What I am presuming happened was the sales rep upgraded our phones with new versions of the operating systems after my wife and I left the store, which seems like a good idea in principle, but I didn't think that I should have to pay for hundreds of megabytes of data usage before I actually owned the phone; Verizon should have covered the cost of upgrading the phones with the latest bits just because that's good customer service. And with that in mind, I tried fighting those charges with Verizon, but - of course - I lost that battle.

I have only had Verizon for one year now, but that has been more than enough time for me to come to the following inescapable conclusion: I HATE VERIZON.

Steaming mad

Omnicharge is Your Devices' Best Friend when Travelling

When I travel, I tend to bring a lot of interesting gear along with me, and much of that gear is designed to support my other gear. I never know what I might need, so I plan for the worst and try to bring a little bit of everything. For example, I have various chargers for phones/tablets/notebooks, etc., plus a variety of USB/Network cables and adapters, and when I'm travelling overseas I bring adapters for international electrical outlets.

However, I have often found myself at a loss for power outlets in various airports, so last year I invested in an Indiegogo campaign to support a device which I thought needed to be brought to the market: Omnicharge. While it wasn't cheap, it promised 2 fast-charging USB ports and an actual AC/DC power outlet. And I must admit, the prospect of having a way to recharge my laptop and other devices was rather appealing.

During the Indiegogo campaign, I pledged the extra cash for the Omnicharge Pro (Omni 20), which boasts 20400mAh with a maximum output of 100W. The campaign was successfully funded at 4,257% of its original goal, (with a grand total of $3,185,869 pledged), so I guess that I wasn't the only traveller who thought this was an amazing device to add to their "go bag."

Omnicharge_Side_View

I received my Omnicharge a couple months ago, and I have had a chance to travel with it a few times. So far, it has exceeded my expectations. I have been stranded with a dying laptop and no AC power outlet on more than one occasion, and the Omnicharge has rescued my laptop each time. The Omnicharge's screen and menus are easy-to-navigate, and it completely charges my Microsoft Surface Book's drained batteries in an hour (while I am still using it).

Omnicharge_Front_Panel

Now that the Indiegogo campaign has long-since ended and backers have received their "early bird" releases, you can now purchase one of these devices through Amazon at http://amzn.to/2nnZgrw.

For more in-depth information about the Omnicharge, see the following video-based overview on YouTube:

Using the Ceton Echo with Windows Media Center

I don't usually post reviews, but I thought that this subject was worth mentioning in case anyone else is having problems with Windows Media Center (WMC) and Linksys Media Center Extenders (MCEs).

Here’s the situation, I used to have a pair of Linksys MCEs that I used with my WMC computer; a DMA2100 and a DMA2200. (Although when I bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago, I configured it as an extender, and I gave the DMA2100 to my dad to use with his WMC computer.)

DMA2100 DMA2200
Linksys DMA2100 Linksys DMA2200

That being said, the Linksys MCEs never worked perfectly for me. They worked fine with DVR-MS, WTV, and WMV files, but for some reason they never worked well with MP4 files – which included my entire library of personal DVDs that I painstakingly ripped and stored in a Media Library on a NAS unit. However, I should mention that MP4 files played just fine on the WMC computer itself, just not on the Linksys MCEs.

I realize that all of the file types which I listed are just wrappers around the underlying media, so I was always perplexed as to why an MP4 file would never work with the fast-forward, skip, rewind, or pause buttons on my Linksys MCEs even though a WMV file would. What’s more, most MP4 files would play for about a minute, then the playback would freeze/skip/etc. for a little bit, and then it would usually stabilize for the rest of the video. (Although sometimes the video would never come back and I had to stop the video or reset the MCE.)

I should point out that all of my devices are hard-wired to gigabit networking hardware, so throughput should never have been a problem. (In fact, running the networking tests from the Linksys MCEs always showed bandwidth off the scale.) I eventually decided that the DMA2200 would have to be limited to just playing back recorded TV, which made it a rather bad return on investment.

For the past few years I had thought that the problem was simply some sort of compatibility issue with Windows Media Center and MP4 files when using an MCE, but I never had any problems with my Xbox 360 when using it as an MCE. In fact, the Xbox works so well that I have disconnected my WMC computer from my TV and now I exclusively use the Xbox to control my WMC.

Xbox-360
Xbox 360

Seeing as how the Xbox was working so well, it finally dawned on me that the problem had to be something internal to the Linksys MCEs. With that in mind, I started shopping around for a second Xbox 360 to replace my remaining Linksys MCE, but first I decided to read some of the Ceton Echo reviews on Amazon.

Several of the reviewers specifically mentioned my exact scenario; they were using Linksys MCEs and they were having problems with the video freezing/skipping, and the Echo resolved the problem. With that in mind, I decided to give the Echo a try.

Ceton-Echo
Ceton Echo

My Ceton Echo arrived a few days ago, and it was a breeze to set up. The footprint is much smaller than either the Linksys DMA2100 or DMA2200, and it's obviously a lot smaller than an Xbox 360. Another nice feature was that the Echo accepted commands from my existing Linksys remote; this was great for me because I had already configured my Linksys remote to control my TV, so I didn't have to change anything else in my setup if I didn't want to.

All of that being said, the most-important benefit after replacing my Linksys MCEs with the Ceton Echo is – no more skipping or freezing when playing MP4 files, and I can use the skip-forward, skip-backward, and pause buttons on the remote when I am viewing MP4 files. One small downside is that the fast-forward and reverse buttons do not seem to work with MP4 files, but I can live with that.

So in closing, if you're using a Linksys Media Center Extender and you're having issues with it, you might want to seriously consider replacing it with a Ceton Echo.