Home Network Nirvana


5 Aug 2011
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To experience true media and Internet sharing joy, set up a system to stream movies and music through every room in your home network. It can be done even with your existing router.
Surf the Internet while in bed, retrieve music from your desktop PC to play in your living room, or download add-ons for your games straight to the console. You can even quickly send a letter to the printer while sitting at the breakfast table if you want. This can be done with a modern home network. And since almost all devices sold today—right from TVs and game consoles to answering machines and external hard disks—are all equipped with networking functions, it is much easier than you might think. CHIP shows you how to set all this up conveniently.

High speed Wi-Fi
The center of your home network is a normal router. You can use older models no doubt, but a modern device with the 802.11n standard is a better option for fast Internet sharing and HD video. You can identify compatible devices with the “n” icon on the packaging. Older and cheaper routers on the other hand are usually equipped to handle only the slower 802.11g standard. Its theoretical transfer rate is 54 Mbit/s , which shrinks to even 15 Mbit/s in practice due to interference such as thick walls or Bluetooth devices.
CHIP recommends a router which can function in dual modes, i.e. it can transfer data at the 300 Mbit/s theoretical rate of Wi-Fi n as well as the older Wi-fi g mode which the majority of devices today will be using. The reason is some n-standard routers will fall back to the slower speed for all devices if they cannot support dual modes simultaneously. Once you have a router which meets your requirements, you can consider upgrading your laptop with an inexpensive USB Wi-Fi n adapter to take full advantage of it. If your laptop is relatively new, chances are it supports the n standard already.
Even the location of the router is very important. The connection functions at its best if it is mounted on a wall, as high as possible. Besides, the router should not be placed directly behind a computer or any other device which emits strong radiation or shields radio waves through a metal casing.
In case of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi g networks, Bluetooth devices and microwave ovens have been known to interfere. You need not worry about which direction to point the antennas in, since current devices use internal antennae and adjust these automatically.
Once the router is placed, you can move on to the configuration. The steps here outline the setup process for a Linksys router, but it will be extremely similar for others. Open the configuration page of the router in your PC’s Web browser, it is by default. Enter “admin” as the username and password. Next, set up your Internet connection as per its settings, either PPPoE or Static.
Now you can move on to the wireless security settings. Most routers can automatically set up secure connections with other devices from the same brand. We’ll use manual settings to make the process more transparent. To set the name (the SSID) of the network yourself, go to the ‘Wireless Devices’ tab and click ‘Manual’. Under ‘Network name’, assign two new names for your wireless connections—one for the 5 GHz and one for the 2.4 GHz band each. Save the configuration using ‘Save Settings’.
In order to ensure that an unknown person cannot creep into your network, you need to secure it. The best option is the current WPA2 technology with AES encryption. Click ‘Wireless Security’ and select ‘WPA2 Personal’ as the Security Mode. Click ‘AES’ under ‘Encryption’, and enter a password next to ‘Passphrase’, ideally around 20 characters: a mixture of digits and alphabets. Save the configuration using ‘Save Settings’.
We still need to change the router’s own password from the default ‘admin’– this protects the settings from a stranger’s eyes. Click on the “Management’ tab in the ‘Administration’ menu and enter a new password under the option ‘Router Password’. Save again through ‘Save Settings’.

NAS replaces big servers
Until now, the PC’s own hard drive has been used to store all your photos, videos and MP3s. Now, a NAS system (Network Attached Storage) takes up this work so that you can access files from any device on the network even when the PC is off. You can find relatively cheap and high-capacity NAS devices in the market, or you can get empty network-attached drive enclosures and add your own drive(s). If you are doing this, choose a “green” hard drive, since the task is not very demanding and it will save power in the long run. Some devices come with additional software for backups and configuration. Now you can serve up media and even create individual shares for music, videos and photos. iTunes Server and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) are two ways you can tell devices to search for media on a shared storage device, so make sure your NAS supports these features. If not, you can always create a shortcut to it using Windows Explorer, or map the network store as a separate drive so it is always visible in Explorer. More advanced drives allow you to determine when they should spin down to reduce power consumption, and let you define a “sleep mode” for the night.

The TV isn’t static

If you are lucky enough to own one of the latest flat-screen high-definition TVs, you might find an Ethernet port (or in rare cases integrated Wi-Fi). Some others have USB ports which let you add a Wi-Fi adapter too. You will need to use the remote to navigate through the settings menus and configure the set to recognize your LAN. You will have to configure the IP address (or set it to automatic) and enter your Wi-Fi password, if applicable. Once set up, the TV remote will let you surf through the available network resources, including your NAS. Select the file you want, and just press play.
For those with less high-tech TVs, companies like Netgear make network-connected adapters which use regular video and audio inputs, but act like a bridge to your network. You could also get a combination device, which has an integrated hard disk as well as network access, to store your files and hook up directly to the TV.

VoIP for long distance call
You have to pay through your nose for even a short conversation with your family abroad—but with VoIP, the same conversation costs you just a few paise, and that too without worrying about any cable connections. Since you already have Wi-Fi coverage all over your home, you can walk around and make calls just like you would with an ordinary cordless phone. Special Skype phones are available but expensive. A cheaper idea would be to use your Wi-Fi enabled cellphone and an application such as Skype, Gizmo5, or even chat programs like Google Talk which allow voice calls.

All the world’s a radio
Finally, you can listen to music without advertisements, and tune in to hundreds more choices than our local FM stations offer. Some of the best radio stations around the world broadcast high quality streams online, which your Wi-Fi enabled home will allow you to listen to anywhere. Live365 and Shoutcast are some of the better online repositories for finding good stations. Tune in through your cellphone, or a suitable receiver box which can plug into your living room speakers or home theater.

Multifunction remote control

You now require just one thing to make your multimedia home perfect: a universal remote control for all entertainment devices. Then you really won’t need to be on your feet every time any longer to enjoy your digital audio and video files. One great (though expensive) example is the Logitech Harmony 1100. You can select your devices from a huge database on the computer, without going through any complicated programming. Even macros for various scenarios can be created easily. For example, you can use just one button to simultaneously switch on the television, switch over to the video input, start the DVD player and play the inserted disc. Everything functions through a touchscreen that displays the suitable information. Optionally, the remote control can control devices from other rooms wirelessly.

Source : Chip Magazine.
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