Connect your HD box to your home network

Originally published in Personal Computer World; expanded and updated for Gone Digital.

With both FreeviewHD and Freesat equipment featuring an Ethernet port, together with many games consoles and BluRay players, a key question for many people is how to connect up to the rest of your home network.

Freesat already provides iPlayer on some equipment, and it’ll be rolled out to more later (see here for details of updates to Panasonic Freesat TVs). BluRay offers ‘BD-Live’ with things like movie trailers, or extra information about actors, while games consoles offer online play against other users. Some Freeview HD boxes, including the Humax, will be offering internet video services like SkyPlayer, too. And, of course, you might want to play video or music that’s on your home computer.

Make the connection

That’s all very well, but for many people, the broadband connection isn’t necessarily in the same room as the TV. One alternative is to run a very long cable from one room to another, but that’s often untidy; WiFi is another, but in many built up areas, it’s problematic – I can see several networks from my living room, and the congestion is so bad that even playing standard definition films over my home network is jerky.

HomePlug AV pass-through adaptor
With its built in socket, this pass-through adaptor is a great way to link your router to a HomePlug AV network

For many people, then, HomePlug is a great solution; it uses your mains wiring to send signals across the home; you plug one adaptor in by the router, and link it with an Ethernet cable, and then plug another one in behind the TV, and connect if to your set top box, games console or BluRay player. The Home Plug AV standard claims speeds of up to 200MBps, though around half that is more likely in the real world. You could use slower 85MBps kit, but I recommend going for the ‘AV’ version – it’s often only around £10 more per adaptor, and having the extra capacity will be useful if you decide to use the HomePlug connection for other things too.

I’m using two products from Solwise here, which both support the HomePlug AV standard. The first is a single adaptor, with mains pass-through socket, which means you can plug in the adaptor, then plug something else into the socket on the front, as well as an Ethernet cable on the bottom – so you don’t lose the use of a powerpoint. The second is catchily called the ‘VESEnet HomePlug 3 port Ethernet power strip’ or Piggy-6.

Piggy-6 Top view
The sockets on the Piggy-6 provide space for even the bulkiest mains adaptors

Living room solution

It’s pretty much tailor-made for the modern living room where you might have a few gadgets that can benefit from a connection to the home network. It’s a six way power adaptor, with surge suppression and filtering on the mains sockets, which are arranged around the hexagonal unit. It might look odd, but it’s actually very usable, and even bulky plug-top tranformers fit in easily – something that’s not always the case with straight power strips.

In the centre is a power button which turns all the sockets off – so it’s easy to save energy – and at the base are three Ethernet ports, plus a small set of lights and buttons to control the HomePlug side of things.

The buttons need to be pressed with a paperclip through a hole, annoyingly. That said, I didn’t need to press anything to add the unit to an existing HomePlug network. If you’ve not set up a HomePlug network before, all you have to do is plug in one unit, press it’s button, then plug in a second, and press the button on that too – it couldn’t be much simpler.

So, with the pass-through adaptor connected to a socket in my home office, and linked to the Ethernet switch, the Piggy-6 provides net access to a Panasonic Freesat TV, Humax Freeview HD box, and my laptop in the living room.

Performance

The filtering on the mains sockets of the Piggy-6 serves two purposes – it provides cleaner power to your devices, and it also stops those with cheap nasty power supplies from interfering with the HomePlug AV network. In my tests, the Solwise gear certainly seemed to perform well at that; with the Piggy-6 plugged into a problematic mains spur that supplies all the AV gear, I was able to stream standard definition video without a hitch, whereas a standalone unit that had no filtering kept losing the connection – though on our noisy spur, we only managed a connection at 40MBps, and HD video playback was still juddery. Connecting directly to the ring main boosted that speed more than threefold – so adaptor placement is obviously very important with HomePlug AV, and the filtering in the Piggy6 won’t solve every problem, though it certainly gave us improved performance.

Together, you’ll be looking at just over £100 for the two devices, which might seem a lot – but you’ll also have three Ethernet ports in the living room, to connect your gadgets to, and a six way filtered mains adaptor – for which you could easily pay over £30 on the high street anyway.

Piggy-6 ethernet sockets
With three ethernet ports, this is a great way to connect your AV gear to the internet

So, if like me you’ve got several devices in the living room, like Freesat, FreeviewHD and BluRay players that want network connections, HomePlug AV, and the Piggy-6 in particular, could be a great solution – faster than wireless, and less messy than long cables.

Details

Price: (April 2010): Pass-through socket: £37.24, Piggy-6: £65.38

Contact: Solwise, 0845 458 4558

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