HOME Technology Nov 2009
Wireless wake-up call
Network media minding
As broadband becomes more pervasive, distributing and managing multimedia content around the home will require more robust internal networks to cope with the on-demand digital lifestyle.

The pioneering TiVo set-top box delivering TV programmes and movies over broadband, is an important glimpse of what the future holds, and a real test of just how well public and home network connectivity copes.

Consumer electronics firms are already beginning to embed Internet video capability and support and TV and other content providers are devising new applications and services they’ll want to pipe into broadband-enabled homes.

While the pressure is on for the big telecommunications carriers and the government to ensure we get faster Internet access, the spotlight is on ways to ramp up the home entertainment infrastructure.

And the huge amount of digital data we accumulate, the low cost of digital storage and the boom in portable media devices is placing pressure on the need for a standardized approach to media management.

In recent years PCs have been touted as ‘media centres’ but there’s been slow uptake, despite Microsoft and others coming up with the software to enable this. Researchers now suggest inexpensive new home server devices, managing downloads and back-ups and synchronising formats across multiple devices, will take on that role.

US research group TDG suggests this consumer electronics-style device will make management of the digital media stockpiled in our homes simpler and more reliable, and expects the market to grow from 1.2 million units last year to 90 million units worldwide by 2015.

Toshiba recently showcased its graphical Media Controller software geared to control devices that comply with the digital living network alliance (DLNA) for home networking and consumer electronics. It looks for devices and sorts them into playback categories, so content can be dragged and dropped between them.

New wireless standard

All of which brings us to the network, typically controlled by a wireless router connected to the Internet and broadcasting its signal so notebooks and other devices can roam around the house and access common content.

The speed and performance of wide area networks (WANs) can be impaired by distance from the router, concrete walls and other obstacles as well as older technology. Matthew Hardy, spokesperson for NetComm New Zealand, says many people still have 802.11g routers from their initial broadband sign up.

Upgrading to 802.11n equipment, resolves many connectivity conundrums, providing up to six times faster throughput and triple the range and penetration. Many modern notebooks and computers already have a 802.11n receivers.

NetComm 800n routers make the maximum use of existing broadband connections and gear people for the future with speeds of up to 300Mbit/sec and multimedia prioritising.
At the high end the NP802n has four Gigabit Ethernet LAN (local area networking) and WAN ports and an antenna array optimised for wifi multimedia.

D-Link, another major competitor in the wireless market, agrees 802.11n is now mature and the way to improve wifi throughput for demanding applications including HDTV, video, voice and music streaming.

Routers with 3G cellular capability can also distribute bandwidth in the home, either through an embedded SIM card or a USB modem. Notebook or mobile users are increasingly adding an external 3G ‘dongle’ so they can hand-off between the home and public networks, particularly as cellular broadband pricing comes down and there’s less reliance on the landline.

With a robust connection to share the Internet, the whole family can begin to have more rapid and reliable access to their growing archive of content and manage their media in a new way, whether it’s streaming music or movies, uploading to mobile media players or high speed gaming.

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