In our recent roundup of Vista Media Center Extenders we were very disappointed that HP MediaSmart connect wasn't available in time to go head to head with the rest. Now that the MediaSmart Connect is in hand, we were anxious to try it out and see how it compares and we have to say that with a MSRP of $350 and a street price at just under $300, we had pretty high expectations. Although there is no doubt that it has the nicest exterior and remote of any extender available, we're not sure if those two merits alone help it to live up to its premium price.

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HP MediaSmart Connect

The Good
Best looking Media Center Extender -- we're a sucker for piano black.
Fully back-lit programmable remote included.
Included HDMI cable.
Internal antenna for ABGN WiFi adapter.
USB and Pocket Media Drive bay.
MediaSmart UI with UPNP/DLNA support.
Silent operation.

The Bad
No 1080p support.
No coax digital out.
Remote is not Media Center centric (HP's Media button is much bigger than The Green Button, for example)
Price ($300).
No HDMI-CEC -- other than power.
MediaSmart UI isn't nearly as "pretty" as Vista Media Center (no animations or translucent menus).
Included HP UPNP/DLNA software only supports Windows.
Network setup wasn't as easy as other extenders we tested (couldn't get an IP).
IR receiver placement between doors, makes it impossible to use with an IR repeater system.
Programming the remote is not intuitive and requires lots of codes to try.

The Ugly
MediaSmart UI is very slow.
No SDTV support-- not every TV in our house is HD after all.

Conclusion
From the first second you open the really cool packaging, there's a lot to like about the HP MediaSmart Connect, but the with a higher price, comes higher expectations. So with an MSRP higher than an Xbox 360, you expect to get more for your money and not less (outputs). If you are completely in love with the HP MediaSmart software -- we're not -- then it may be the perfect extender for you. But with longer load times (30 seconds vs 8 of the Linksys), less outputs and identical performance when being used as an extender, the HP MediaSmart Connect simply doesn't knock off the current king, the DMA2100. That being said, if it was the same price as the Linksys -- which we've seen for as low as $150 -- we could easily overlook the missing features and would instead really appreciate the nicer exterior and included remote that is actually usable.

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