We look at a smattering of other gadgets
that can be connected to your network
Network Media Players
Although dedicated media PCs are a powerful
and feature-rich way of watching downloaded content on your PC, they're also
expensive. Unless you choose carefully, they can also be noisy and inefficient
in terms of power consumption. An increasingly popular alternative is to have a
dedicated media playback box on your network, which allows you to access video
and music from elsewhere on your network and stream it to your television.
Before you rush out and buy a network media player, however, you should make
sure your network infrastructure is up to it. Wireless networks at the edge of
their range will not be up to the job, and if you've invested in a luxurious,
solid oak TV stand, it's likely to serve as an effective block to any built-in
wi-fi adaptor such a device will include. For reasons of consistency, we
therefore recommend a Powerline connection instead or, if feasible, a dedicated
Network media players come in many shapes
and sizes. They also widely range in cost from less than $32 for basic
unbranded models all the way up to well over $160 for the most feature-rich
models available. Before you purchase any media player, it's essential that you
check it supports the formats you need it to. If you regularly download video
content in the popular MKV format, for example, check to make sure that this
format is properly supported by any device you are interested in. It also pays
dividends to choose practicality over pretty looks. The AppleTV, for example,
has great aesthetics (as usual) but is incredibly weak in terms of the actual
media formats it supports.
If you want to be tied into the iTunes
platform, then by all means pay your $158.4 fee, but don't expect it to work
with the majority of video content currently downloadable on the web.
Providing you don't need wireless support,
the Seagate Goflex Tv HD Media Player is a solid option. As well as supporting
pretty much every popular media format under the sun, the product also has an
internal bay for GoFlex portable drives. It fully supports Blu-ray menus from
ripped .iso files and has a slick remote-friendly interface. It costs a very
reasonable £69.99. Another very effective and affordable solution comes from
Western Digital, in the form of its compactly named 'WD TV Live'. As with the
Seagate device, WD's solution supports .iso rips of DVD and Blu-ray, and
supports most other popular download formats as well. Its interface is
reminiscent of the Crossbar interface of the PS3 and is slick and responsive.
Unlike the Seagate, it has built-in 802.11n, making it an ideal solution for
those needing wireless connectivity.
IP cameras that use Powerline technology
If you're of a paranoid disposition, or
live in an area prone to high levels of crime, a good network can be extended
to accommodate a comprehensive home security system. There's a plethora of
so-called IP cameras on the market, which allow you to connect a camera to your
router or a dedicated network-attached surveillance box and view and record any
room in your property.
More advanced variants feature motion
detection and can be set to only record when movement is detected in
pre-defined hours of use, whereas others feature night vision support, allowing
for surveillance in even the darkest of rooms. Some IP cameras can be powered
over Ethernet cables if you have a power-over-Ethernet enabled router or
switch, whereas others require a conventional power connection. There are even
PLC IP cameras that use Powerline technology to provide both power and network
connectivity in a single device. Other IP cameras connect over wireless
technology, sending their images back to a wireless router with no need for a
trail of Ethernet cables.
Outdoor Wireless IP Camera
Elaborate IP cameras and surveillance boxes
can provide DDNS access, allowing you to keep track of the security of your
home network by accessing a static internet link. These are great for keeping
an eye on things if you're on holiday or are regularly away on business.
Surveillance software can then be set up to text or email you should an
intruder be detected, allowing you to alert the authorities as quickly as
No matter what kind of network-based IP
camera setup you want for your home, there is now seemingly a product available
for it. Night vision? Check. Motion detection? Check. DDNS? Check. Solar
powered wireless IP camera for your property's exterior? Check. Wireless IP
camera disguised as a tissue box? Check... the list is endless.
Cost wise, wireless IP cameras are wide
ranging in price. A single IP Ethernet camera can cost as little as $48 per
unit, but you will normally save money by buying a kit, incorporating a bundle
of multiple cameras and a surveillance box that can collate and record their
data. Wireless cameras with night vision and motion detection are naturally
more expensive, and can cost upwards of $160 per unit. The quality of the lens
and sensor also has a significant impact on cost. Standard-definition
surveillance is more than good enough for most homes, but if you want the added
benefit of full HD video capabilities, such products are available at
significant additional cost.