Pimp Your Pad (Part 2) - Cross connections

4/28/2012 9:06:29 AM

Cross connections

Once you’ve decided on a place to store your stuff, you need to make sure you can pipe it around your home to where you want it. By far the most convenient method is a good wireless-N router. Most recent phones and tablets support the 802.11n standard, and even older laptops will have full support.

Positioning of the router is key to an uninterrupted streaming experience, as once you've started you don't want to break off mid-stream. If you can't use the router in the same room, try the room above or below - floorboards hardly block the signal, while bricks do. Remember the positions of doors, as they enable signals to pass through easily as well. It's also usually best to connect the media server via an Ethernet cable, as it removes one potential area of signal interruption, and Ethernet cables can be up to 100m in length.

If you've got signal issues and don't want cables trailing around your home, there are always powerline network adaptors. They're not cheap if you need more than a pair, but they can send a network signal through your power sockets, reducing the amount of cabling to just that between the socket and the device.

Description: Powerline networking is an excellent way to wire up your home

Powerline networking is an excellent way to wire up your home

Everything's connected

With the infrastructure now in place, let's give you a connected television. Unless you're lucky enough to own a smart TV with internet capabilities built in, in which case it'll be easy to hook it up to either to your wireless or wired network, getting internet services and streaming media to your TV is now no more complicated than adding the right box.

The most obvious answer is to drop in a laptop or home theatre PC, with an HDMI connection to take care of the video and audio for you. While a Media Center remote provides almost all the control you need and costs about $24, you may want to also consider a Bluetooth or wireless keyboard for another $24. iPhone and Android-based remote apps like Unified Remote (www.unifiedremote. com) also provide a keyboard/trackpad solution, with the added advantage you can show off and feel like you're living in the future.

We love the laptop option because it gives us a full Windows solution, but another fine option is the smart set-top box. These come in many guises. One idea is to buy an internet-ready Blu-ray player like the Samsung BD-D5300 for around $160. Its Smart Hub system offers an icon-based web browsing interface, while it provides Blu-ray and DVD playback, plus simplified AllShare DLNA/UPnP media streaming. Alternatively, you can choose from a huge range of media streamers. The cheap models won’t offer networking connectivity, but wireless and wired networking become available at around £100. Models like the AC Ryan PlayOn!HD include a local hard drive for storage and offer a convenient connection solution with flexible video and audio output, plus local USB, memory card and network ports. See the box above for details of how to connect your portable Android and iOS devices but, generally if you want to stream it, there's a smart box or an app that offers the features you need.

Description: Pick the right network infrastructure fora smooth experience

Pick the right network infrastructure for a smooth experience


Streaming services

Get your media anywhere you go

We're told that all the coolest kids have iPhones, so we guess our Nokia 3210 isn't hip anymore - dang. For all iOS devices and Android-based tablets and phones, there are a host of free and paid-for streaming app solutions. If you have money to spend we'd strongly recommend InMethod Air Video on iOS or Plex for Android and iOS. If free sounds more like your thing, try VLC Streamer on iOS and VLC Direct on Android. It requires far more manual labour to set up, but works well enough once up and running.

We shouldn't overlook paid-for streaming and rental services. Long-standing postal and high-street companies like LoveFilm and BlockBuster are now offering download and streaming rentals, with LoveFilm also providing iPad support. Amazon and YouTube have moved into film rental too and support any device that can play YouTube, which includes Android devices, the iPad and iPhone.

Of course this also encompasses the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PS3, both as devices that can extend your network reach to a HDTV, but also as streaming destinations. Microsoft Xbox Live provides film rentals and Sony has its PlayStation Store Video Store (so good they named it twice). If you own either already, try exploring one of the DLNA or UPnP servers like, or to run on your server or main PC system. As streaming devices, the Xbox 360 at $272 isn't much more tempting than the $304 PS3, which at least comes with a Blu-ray player.

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