High speed media streaming for your home

Posted in Hardware,M@H by Ruslan Ulanov on the January 25th, 2010

HomePlugDo you want to set-up a high speed local network for streaming HD videos from your WHS in one room to your media center in another? No problem – use Cat-5 or Cat-6 Ethernet cable to connect two (or more) systems. That’s the most robust and fastest LAN solution available today for the home (we’re not even considering the optical networks here). The Cat-6 cable can support a 100oMbps network speeds.

But what would one do if there are no Ethernet cables running inside the walls of the house or if you are renting and not allowed to rip the walls off to make a cable drop? Here are a few alternatives available today.

Power lines

You might not know yet, but power lines in your walls could carry more than just an electric current. Solutions based on HomePlug AV technology allow to create local network with theoretical speeds up to 200Mbps*. And the good news is the installation is a snap. They require no new wires, just two tiny boxes connected to power outlets in each room where you need an Ethernet outlet. One of the boxes must be connected to the router or network switch.

Zyxel (PLA-4xx series), D-link (DHP-303 PowerLine HD Network Starter Kit), Netgear (XAVxxx series) as well as some CE manufacturers like Panasonic produce HomePlug-compatible devices.

Beware though, there’s a catch with any powerline based products. Since most homes in the US have electricity coming in from two (rarely more) separate phases if sender and receiver units are located on opposite phases they won’t be able to see and communicate with each other.

Coaxial cable

Most homes are wired with coaxial cable outlets in every room. Yes, that’s the cable you connect to TV sets to receive cable or SAT programming. If there’s a room without coax it could be installed by your Cable or Internet provider for a nominal fee (usually under $50). Solutions based on Coax just start to emerge, but in essence they are very similar to the HomePlug technology, and require a converter box at each end to separate the TV signal from the data network.

D-link’s DXN-221 HD MediaBridge Coax Network Starter Kit is one of the choices.

Zyxel’s PLA-402 v3 Powerline Coaxial Ethernet Adapter uses HomePlug AV standard.

ZeeVee’s ZvBox 100 and 150 takes a different approach by modulating RF channel on the coax out of VGA signal from your PC. In plain English it means that ZvBox creates a new channel on all TVs connected to the coax cable in your home. You just need to connect ZvBox to PC’s analog monitor (aka VGA) output. No adapters are needed for ZvBox on TV’s side.

Wireless

High transfer speeds are also attainable with wireless connections, though in majority of cases this is the least reliable solution as it is very easily affected by a number of appliances in your home operating in the same wireless spectrum. For example, microwave ovens and many land-line wireless phones work in a 2.4GHz spectrum that is used by WiFi b/g/n, so the transfer speeds could drop substantially as the interference from appliances causes network packets to be dropped and re-sent over and over again. The WiFi a (and n) could also operate in 5GHz spectrum, which is less populated and usually provides better streaming experience, alas very few laptops and media receivers are outfitted with built-in 5GHz radios, so you will most likely have to buy an adapter and compatible wireless router.

Gefen just recently announced a 60GHz wireless solution that allows to extend HDMI connection up to 30ft. It is not intended for Ethernet network, only HDMI, but in some cases that might be all you need (provided you have $999 to spare).

 

* The theoretical speed is attainable only in controlled lab environment. The actual “real-world” speed is usually lower or much lower then THY.

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