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The emerging connected home

September 18, 2012 • Opinion

Homes are becoming increasingly connected as more and more devices are developed with the ability to communicate with each other. This allows users to create an entire home network of audio and visual technology for the easy sharing of content across devices.  However, in doing so it has become clear that the actual networking itself can prove challenging. From latency and jitters to dead spots and interference, wireless networks are prone to a host of issues, and wired networks come with cost implications and problems of their own such as inflexibility.  Fortunately these challenges are all easily solved with a couple of top tips for video and audio streaming networks.

Ross Griffiths, Product Manager at Nology. (Image: Nology)

Internet televisions, connected DVD players and media players have become increasingly common technologies, all allowing users to surf the Internet on their TVs, watch videos, listen to music, view social networks and access a variety of other online services from their  living rooms, with media players also enabling streaming of data across a network and allowing for sharing of content like audio, video and photos throughout the home.

Set top boxes provide content directly from the Internet to television for Video on Demand, social networking, Internet browsing, and so on, and gaming consoles are no longer purely for gaming but double up as media players, blue ray players and online gaming devices. Even printers are becoming network devices, allowing for printing over the Internet.

The upshot of this is that a massive overlap between traditional Information Technology (IT) and audio visual (AV) has emerged, driven by convergence. There is no longer a separation between TV, movies, music and the PC, and files that have been downloaded are no longer restricted to viewing on a computer screen or listening through headphones or computer speakers.

The blurring of boundaries and the convergence of technologies means that users can now view photos and videos on their TVs, listen to music from their PC on the stereo and browse the web from the comfort of their living room.

The connected home is the culmination of connectivity and convergence with entertainment, allowing for the centralisation of all media and networked sharing and access of this content from any point throughout the house.

The aim of this is to make streaming and sharing content easy for all users, but this relies on connectivity to ensure availability, including an Internet connection and the local connection or Local Area Network (LAN) within the home, both of which represent challenges.

While massive improvements have been made to broadband availability in South Africa, speeds and bandwidth limitations still create challenges. The bandwidth limitations (or caps) are problematic when it comes to High Definition (HD) movies especially, which are often very large files.  However, uncapped offerings have become more readily available in recent years. Speed remains the biggest challenge to live streaming. Until speeds improve, content cannot be streamed directly from the Internet, and must first be downloaded and then viewed.

The reality is that not much can be done by the user about Internet connectivity. The other aspect of connectivity, the LAN, also presents problems. The main issue with local area connections is that wireless is not always a stable mechanism for content delivery, with dead spots and poor reception a common problem. 

The decrease in speeds over distance leads to jittery content streaming that presents poor quality audio and video. Wireless is also subject to interference from other electronic devices, particularly microwaves, but the alternative Ethernet cabling, is difficult and costly to install particularly in multi-storey homes, and can be unsightly.

Wireless still provides a great option for connectivity, especially for shorter distances, as it allows freedom of movement and flexibility. To deliver the greatest range and highest speeds, all networking equipment should support Wireless-N (802.11n, 300Mbps).

To address the inherent problems with wireless, Ethernet over Power is an innovative technology that enables users to create a wired network using existing electrical cabling in the home. 

HomePlug devices simply need to be plugged into power outlets and connected to the master device with the push of a button, creating an instant network connection between the two, offering constant speeds and more stable connectivity and eliminating dead spots, since additional devices can be easily added wherever they are required. Installations can be adjusted whenever necessary and are totally portable, so users can take the HomePlug devices with them should they relocate.

To ensure that users make the most of their networks, the setup is critical, and care should be taken to select products that will deliver on the required functionality. Any mismatch between equipment functionality and the incorrect placement of devices can lead to content delivery issues and major frustration.

The ideal solution is to combine the right wireless connectivity technology with HomePlug devices to ensure optimal speeds, provide the freedom to upgrade and expand the network easily and allow wireless access points to be positioned strategically throughout the home. This enables users to create a fully functioning home network without dead spots for the ultimate in streaming and content sharing and a truly connected home.

Ross Griffiths, Product Manager at Nology

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