HTPC Networking Consideration (Part 3) - Wireless Networking, Powerline To The Rescue

6/25/2012 9:32:39 AM

Wireless Networking

Wireless is a different kettle of fish. Don't assume that because you have an 802.1 1g or '54Mbps' wireless connection that you actually have than amount of bandwidth available to you. This is a theoretical maximum, and after protocol overheads, interference and a bit of range, you'll be lucky to achieve half of this figure.

Description: Description: Home Wireless Networking

802.11n speeds are a lot faster but, if anything, the quoted bandwidth is even more misleading. For instance, to actually achieve 300Mbps you need to use 'channel bonding' mode, whereby two adjacent wireless channels are used at the same time. This isn't particularly kind to your neighbours, as it hogs two wireless channel rather than one and is turned off by default on most equipment. If you achieve a strong wireless signal at the more achievable 150Mbps 802.1 1n speed, then you should have no problem streaming a Blu-ray-quality movie, provided the host device (i.e. where the file is stored) is connected to your router over a cable. This is because your wireless resources have to be shared by as many devices as are connected to the network. This will make it, for example, virtually impossible to seamlessly stream a 1080p movie from one wireless device to another, since the two devices are in direct competition with each other for the same network resources.

Another weakness of wireless networking for media streaming is their inherent instability. Wireless is designed to renegotiate and connect at a slower network speed if interference is encountered, and this can unfortunately manifest as pauses and skips in your video playback. If you're frequently seeing 'buffering' during your video playback over a wireless device, this is probably the reason.

Despite wireless being far from ideal for media streaming, it is for some people the only realistic option. If this is the case, then the difference between 802.11g and 802.11n is immense and you'll achieve markedly better results by upgrading your infrastructure. One of the most frequently used media playback devices is the PlayStation 3 - a device that lacks any sort of fast wireless connectivity. With only an 802.11g internalised adaptor, you'll struggle to reliably stream any sort of high-quality video files from your server or NAS box to this device. The Xbox 360 conversely has 802.1 1n wireless capabilities, be it internally (slim model) or via a USB adaptor (older beige models). Fortunately, there's a way to add 802.1 1n networking to your PS3 or any other device with an Ethernet port (see our boxout for details).

Powerline To The Rescue

Description: Description: NETGEAR Powerline AV 200 adapter

NETGEAR Powerline AV 200 adapter

A much better solution than wireless for home high-definition video streaming is to use a Powerline adaptor. These very handy devices convert the power cables in your home into network cables, providing a high level of consistency and generally better speed than wireless. Various examples of the devices exist, some promising connectivity speed as fast as 'proper' Ethernet. In our experience, around 60 to 100Mbps is achievable on modern wiring over the same ring main, and slightly slower than this if you're crossing floors.

Setting up a Powerline network is generally very simple. First of all, you need to pair the devices. This normally involves pressing a button on device one, then on device two, and the pair are connected. You can add more Homeplugs to your network as you require more devices, and even add wireless access points to them if you need to provide wireless access to your mobile devices at the extreme corners of your home. Powerline networks, unless you're unlucky enough to have very poor quality wiring, will be more than fast enough to stream two high-definition movies simultaneously.

Mix And Match

For most of us, the most effective networks for serving multimedia will combine all three types of networking. You should always have your NAS or home server attached via Ethernet to your router, then add remotely located playback devices over a combination of Powerline, wireless and Ethernet connections depending on practicality and bandwidth requirements. For example, while wireless is a little shaky for video, with audio even high-quality lossless files will be silky smooth over even 54g wireless, provided you don't exceed realistic range expectations!

Adding 802.11n Support To Any Network Device

Description: D:\!Work\!60s\!Copy Mags\ThuAn\19.06.2012 Part 1\Tech_Desktop_HTPC_Networking_Consideration_(Part_3)_files\image003.png

If you have a device that has a standard Ethernet connection, there are now adaptors that can provide them with wireless connectivity. USB adaptors designed for PC systems will not work on other devices, but gadgets like Netgear's Universal Wi-fi Internet Adapter bypass this problem by routing the wireless data through an Ethernet connection. This simple and compact device is powered by either a conventional power plug or a USB port. It then connects wirelessly to your router and transfers the data sent and received to the Ethernet port. This allows you to wirelessly connect smart TVs, games consoles and set-top boxes that otherwise would need a cabled connection. It supports 802.11 n speeds and costs approximately $48. It works with PCs as well, giving you a valid alternative to wireless USB adaptors, which can be difficult to get working with operating systems other than Windows. If you're using a PS3 as your media playback device and are limited to its built-in wireless, the upgrade provided by this handy gadget is northing short of spectacular.

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  •  Managing Xen : Xen Domain Configuration Files
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