Previously, I had written an article about using HomePlug to connect a TiVo device to your home network if you don’t have Ethernet connectivity near the TiVo device. This was after I had seen poor Wi-Fi performance from the TiVo-specified 802.11g Wi-Fi adaptor that a TiVo that was on show at a consumer-electronics show was connected to. This is infact the beginning of a trend by consumer-electronics manufacturers to differentiate their product ranges.
What does it mean if consumer-electronics is “Wi-Fi-ready”
Consumer-electronics manufacturers will place a range of network-enabled consumer-electronics products like flatscreen TVs or Blu-Ray players as “Wi-Fi-ready” or “Wi-Fi-enabled” units. These units will be cheaper than the products that have Wi-Fi functionality integrated in them and this fact is used as a way of differentiating between particular models or ranges.
When you want to use the “Wi-Fi-ready” TV or Blu-Ray player on your home network’s Wi-Fi segment, you have to buy a special Wi-Fi network-adaptor module from the consumer-electronics manufacturer through their retail front. Most such adaptor modules will come in the form of a USB “dongle” that plugs in to a specified USB socket on the device but some manufacturers may require that their technicians install the module in the set for you. This latter practice may be more so with TVs sold by some European manufacturers who are used to having add-on functionality modules available for installation by their technicians at a later date upon their customers’ request.
Of course, nearly all of these items of consumer electronics will have an Ethernet socket on them so you can connect them to an Ethernet network segment or a HomePlug networks segment with the appropriate bridge device.
The Wi-Fi dongles or modules
The dongles or modules are usually peculiar to a manufacturer’s products or may only work with a certain subset of their products such as those that are based on a particular design. They usually cost more than a USB-Wi-Fi network adaptor sold for general-purpose computers. As well, the modules, especially the dongles, may not give the same kind of Wi-Fi performance as a setup where the Wi-Fi functionality is integrated in the device.
It may also be worth paying attention to the price difference for the model that comes with Wi-Fi and the model that is “Wi-Fi-ready”. If the device of concern is a TV set, I would suggest that you compare the two models that have the same screen size and display technology. It is also worth asking if the retailer does sell the Wi-Fi module and how much for. This is because in some cases, the aforementioned price difference at the store may be less than the cost of buying this module.
What can you do with a “Wi-Fi-ready” device if you don’t have Ethernet at its location?
This same situation can also hold true if you wish to go for the cheaper “Wi-Fi-ready” model yet integrate it in to the home network in a “no-new-wires” manner.
I would suggest that you use a HomePlug AV setup to connect the “Wi-Fi-ready” device to the home network if you don’t have an Ethernet connection in place at the device’s location. This also includes situations where you may move the device to a newer location such as “pushing” the existing Internet-enabled “Wi-Fi-ready” TV to the secondary lounge area or bedroom.
Most of the HomePlug AV starter kits which comprise of two HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridges (a.k.a “homeplugs”) can typically cost the same as the add-on Wi-Fi adaptors. It is also worth knowing that if you pay a bit more, some of these kits even come with an integrated Ethernet switch which may be useful if you have two or three network-enabled video peripherals near the TV or are likely to connect the PS3 or Xbox 360 to the TV.
One situation that I would fear most with consumer-electronics would be to use the optional Wi-Fi module technique used in the current crop of “Wi-Fi-ready” equipment to provide network / Internet connectivity to cheaper equipment at extra cost to the consumer.
Here, the equipment would have no Ethernet socket yet still show “network-function” teasers in its user interface and describe the functions in its user manual and marketing literature. But the user would have to buy a Wi-Fi or Ethernet module in order to link the device to the home network before they benefit from network and Internet functionality.
Like with the Wi-Fi-ready scenario, the user wouldn’t be able to use cheaper or better-value hardware to network-enable their device, therefore end up paying the premium for network connectivity.