Extra Network Hardware Round-Up (Part 1)

5/31/2012 3:33:45 PM

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 Ethernet connection.

Description: the Seagate Goflex Tv HD Media Player

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.

Systems Security

Description: PLC IP cameras that use Powerline technology

PLC 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.

Description: EyeSpy247Ext Outdoor Wireless IP Camera

EyeSpy247Ext 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 possible.

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.

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