An Internet “edge” router that can become a DLNA media player and controller

Article

D-Link’s Xteme N DIR-685 All-In-One Router Gets DLNA Certification and Some Nifty New Features | eHomeUpgrade

Download link:

D-Link’s support website – DIR-685 downloads

My comments

I had previously mentioned the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N Broadband Router / Electronic Picture Frame in this site during my coverage of the CES 2009 show in January 2009. This warranted my attention because of a storage router that also worked as an electronic picture frame because of its colour LCD display.

This router also was part of the DLNA Media Network because it could become a DLNA media server for material held on a user-installed hard disk or an external USB-based storage device. But this functionality has been extended through the latest firmware update for it to become a control point in the DLNA Media Network as well as showing pictures held on other DLNA Media Servers on that same network.

By the same token, the screen can be controlled by other DLNA Media control points such as TwonkyManager or a control point integrated in a smartphone like Andromote (Android), PlugPlayer (iOS – iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch) or the one that part of most of the Nokia phones.

At the moment, the utility of this function is limited to digital images because there isn’t any sound-handling functionality in this router.

This could lead to ideas like a “two-box two-screen” network solution for visual merchandising consisting of this router and a Sony or Samsung DLNA-ready TV with images shown on both the router and the TV. Similarly, this device could be seen as another “screen” for pictures to appear in another area but sharing a common pool of pictures in the network.

Therefore this is another example of a common standard breeding product software innovation rather than an imitative design culture.

Send to Kindle

Will more Windows-based laptops appear on the “Cool Wall”?

Article

Windows PCs take New York | The Microsoft Blog

My comments

Last year, when Windows 7 and Apple MacOS X “Snow Leopard” came out, a lot more Windows-based laptops and “all-in-one” computers appeared that excelled on their aesthetics as well as their functionality. This has been reinforced with a few of the computers that have come my way for review on this site.

The Envy laptop (product review) has a laser-etched “filligree” pattern on the back of the computer’s lid and on the palm rest whereas the ProBook 4520s (product review) has a “brushed” florentine-bronze finish on those same places. Dell had used a “piano-black” gloss finish on the lid of two of the computers – the Studio 15 (product review) and the Inspiron 13z (product review) while their Mini 10 netbook (product review) had that “gloss-white” finish that was common with previous generations of Apple iPods and Macintosh products for the back of the computer.

If you, like me, are a regular viewer of “Top Gear” which is a very funny BBC TV car show which is pitched at the petrolheads and car enthusiasts amongst us , you may have seen the “Cool Wall” segment on this show (WikiPedia article). Here, there is a very large board that is divided up in to four segments – “Seriously Uncool”, “Uncool”, “Cool” and “Sub Zero”. Here, the Top Gear Boys (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May) place photos of various cars on this wall according to how cool they think these cars are. Some of us may have noticed a so-called “Super-Cool Fridge” which was a box shaped like a fridge where pictures of cars deemed to be “Super-Cool” went. The Top Gear Boys tended to vary the definition of “coolness” based on the car’s powertrain, body style or other factors, even on whether certain celebrities and high-profile individuals were driving it or not.

If you thought of a “Cool Wall” existing for laptop computers, it may have looked like this with all of the recent-issue Apple MacBook laptops being considered either “Sub-Zero” or in the “Super-Cool” fridge and all of the Windows-based laptops appearing on the “Uncool” side. This is because of the grey finish with that Apple logo glowing on the back of the computer. What is now happening is that the machines from HP, Dell, Acer, ASUS and Sony are now in a position to fill in most of the “Cool Wall”.

This latest crop of laptops that have been shown in the preview show detailed in the Windows PCs take New York article is now showing that more of these manufacturers are showing up with machines that can look as good as the Apple units. Similarly, there have been people who have used Windows-7-based computers to do creative work including music production and this has led to MacOS X “Snow Leopard” and Windows 7 ending up on an even footing as far as desktop computing is concerned.

Some Apple pundits may think that Apple moving away from the Motorola PowerPC processor platform to the Intel processor platform as well as integration of Microsoft technologies into MacOS X may have denied the Apple Macintosh platform its perceived  exclusivity and superiority over other platforms. This is even though Apple had licensed intellectual property from Microsoft ever since they used the Microsoft BASIC code for the Applesoft BASIC interpreter in the Apple II lineup of computers.

At least there is more activity underway with yielding a functionally and aesthetically level desktop-computing field between the two main players.

Send to Kindle

Product Review – Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook (REPOST)

UPDATE:  I have had to repost this review because something has happened with the site and the copy for the review has disappeared suddenly

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook which is the first computer of this class that I am able to review. It would be one of these machines that was considered the right machine to own during the heart of the Great Financial Crisis but still has a place in today’s home network as an auxiliary computer.

As with all Dell computers, you choose the specification for the computer when you order it through their Website and the specification that is available on the Website may differ from the one that I am reviewing. The base specification for this computer would cost AUD$449.but there are more expensive specifications available that primarily have the computer prepared for wireless broadband or an onboard TV tuner.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook

The netbook computer itself

The computer is finished in an “Apple-white” gloss finish on the outside and black around the keyboard and screen escutcheon. The gloss finish may still have the disadvantage of attracting fingermarks during regular use. There isn’t anything that can appear to damage good dining-room tables when the machine is placed on these tables.

My review sample is outfitted with the Intel Atom netbook processor and works with 1Gb of RAM, some of which is shared with the display memory.

The secondary storage is based around a 160Gb hard disk as single logical drive and an SD card slot as removeable storage. The computers that come through the Website will have 250Gb hard-disk space.rather than the 160Gb that is part of the test specification.

The graphics infrastructure is based around an Intel graphics chipset that is optimised for netbooks and yields a 1024×600 resolution on the 10” screen. The only external display connectivity available in this case is a VGA socket.

As well, there are three USB sockets – one on the right-hand side and two on the left-hand side.There is also an Ethernet connection for wired networks and the audio in-out jacks on the right hand side. For wireless connectivity, this unit supports Wi-Fi to 802.11g as well as Bluetooth wireless.

The operating system used in this test specification is the Windows XP Home Edition SP3 but computers that are available for sale come with Windows 7 Starter Edition. It may be still worth upgrading the operating system to Windows 7 Home Premium through an Anytime Upgrade pack if you want better network functionality.

Observations and Experiences

The keyboard is responsive but may appear cramped due to the small size of these computers. The touchpad is very small but works well for navigation. These are situations that are considered typical for computers in its class.

I had watched a few YouTube videos about IT and found that the computer is still good with downloaded video content. As well, I had run it through a round of an action-puzzle game on MiniClip which is a popular casual-game site, and the game was still very responsive. Obviously this wouldn’t be the kind of computer for playing the big-time games but would be good for casual games and similar use.

I haven’t worked out a battery “drain test” yet that is appropriate for computers of this class but as I was working on the computer which was running on batteries, I kept observing the battery meter as I used the computer even while I had McAfee do a virus scan in the background and Windows Update deploy the latest set of updates to XP, the computer doesn’t look like it goes tbattery quickly. I also made these observations with the computer under manufacturer-default conditions.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would place this computer as a unit that would be useful as a small-size auxiliary computer for travelling or use around the home such in the kitchen or “Facebooking” in front of the TV. It may work well as something with a keyboard for getting notes on to a file while out and about before you “finish” them on your main computer.

Send to Kindle

Ozmo’s low-power Wi-Fi technology now with real silicon proof-of-concept

Articles

News articles

Ozmo’s WiFi PAN available Q4, is this the end of Bluetooth’s reign of terror? – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Ozmo Devices Announces Revolutionary Solution Powering World’s First Wi-Fi Mouse and Keyboard

Related Articles in this site

The Wi-Fi Personal Area Network is getting closer

Ultra-Low-Power Wireless Networking

My comments and questions

Previously I have covered the topic of WiFi technology being used as a “personal area network” for a computer, which comprises of peripheral devices like mice and keyboards communicating to a particular computer via the WiFi technology. rather than that technology being used to transfer data between computers and other devices in a local area network. What has happened is that Ozmo have come up with a real chipset for use in these devices that can use this medium as well as run for a  long time on batteries. At the same time, Ozmo had built reference designs of wireless mice and keyboards that use this technology to communicate with their host devices.

One main question that I have about Ozmo’s effort is whether the same technology can be applied to devices that link directly to a Wi-Fi local area network’s access point rather than a particular computer? One main application that I see here with this technology would be Wi-Fi as a sensor / control network medium with devices like those that Ekahau had made as part of their Wi-Fi-driven real-time location technology, such as the pager tag which I had talked about in this site previously. Another application would be Internet radios, Wi-Fi-connected speakers and similar multimedia terminals that would be able to work on batteries as well as digital cameras that can upload to network storage or Internet sites or present to DLNA terminals without a severe penalty on battery life.

Another issue would be for a dedicated-function device like a set-top box or games console to support this kind of technology, whether as part of integrated Wi-Fi LAN functionality or as a Wi-Fi PAN setup as an alternative to Bluetooth or infra-red as a way of connecting peripherals, especially control peripherals.

It would be very interesting to see what comes of this technology once the silicon becomes fully available.

Send to Kindle

Product Review – Compaq Presario CQ42 notebook computer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Compaq Presario CQ42 notebook computer which is pitched as an “entry-level” notebook computer. This kind of machine is expected to be used for most Web-browsing and email tasks, office tasks or basic multimedia playback but wouldn’t perform well for advanced media creation or heavy gaming. 

Processor Intel Celeron dual-core  
RAM` 2Gb Shared with display
Secondary Storage 250Gb Hard disk DVD-RW,
Card reader
Display Subsysten Intel Graphics 797Mb maximum
Screen 14” Widescreen LED-backlit LCD
Networking 802.11g wireless  
  Ethernet  
  V.92 modem  
Connectivity USB 3 x USB 2.0
  Video VGA, HDMI
  Audio Headphone x 1, HDMI
    Microphone

The laptop itself

The Compaq Presario is finished in a matte black housing that has a textured pattern on the top of the case and on the keyboard bezel. The display escutcheon is still the black edged type like most of the current crop of laptops and hides a Webcam for video conferencing.

Processor and RAM

This unit is based on an Intel Celeron dual-core processor, another of the processors in Intel’s Celeron “economy-class” processors. Even so, it is capable of providing “up-to-date” performance for most tasks.

It is provisioned with 2Gb RAM, some of which is being used for the display memory like what is accepted for most mainstream laptop computers.

Secondary Storage

The system’s main hard disk is 250Gb with a separate partition for system recovery data and another one for the HP-supplied software. For removeable storage, there is a LightScribe-capable DVD-RW burner and a memory card reader.

Graphics Subsystem

The graphics subsystem is based on Intel hardware and software and can use up to 797Mb of the system’s RAM. This is shown up through a LED-lit 14” LCD display. There is also the ability to connect an external display that uses either a VGA or HDMI connector to the system. Speaking of HDMI, there is support for HDMI digital audio but this comes alive when you connect the laptop to suitable monitor,  HDTV or home-theatre receiver and you would have to make sure that the Intel HDMI Audio driver is your sound device..

Networking and Connectivity

This computer can associate with 802.11g Wi-Fi networks and also has an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug network segments. Surprisingly for this day and age, it is equipped with a dial-up modem but this may be the only Internet access type for people who live out in the country.

You also have 3 USB sockets and separate sockets for the headphones and microphone. These aren’t provided as an independent sound feed for use with communications applications,

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is a smooth flat plastic affair with a light and springy touch which may feel cheap, but it is still suitable for accurate touch-typing.  This is aided with tactile markers on the “F” and “J” keys so you can locate the home row very quickly and easily.

The trackpad is integrated into the palmrest in a manner that may be hard to find for people used to an obvious trackpad. Here, it is just a small area under the spacebar and identified with a accent near the keyboard and the selection buttons as a long bar close to the bottom edge of the keyboard.

Hidden touchpad

Hidden touchpad below spacebar

Software complement

The system is delivered with Windows 7 Home Premium but HP have also supplied software like Norton desktop security software and Cyberlink multimedia software.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation would be the hard disk space where the unit has a relatively small hard disk to what is available for most laptops. This may put a limitation on certain user classes like senior-secondary and tertiary students who will have a large amount of work but also run the machine as a jukebox. Here, I would look at providing a version with a 320Gb hard disk but with other features being the same, either as a “product refresh” or a separate model.

Another point of improvement could be to provide wired Ethernet as a Gigabit connection especially as this will be the standard for equipment that is part of “next-generation” broadband.

Other than that, it has the features that would be expected by someone buying a laptop on a budget.

Use experience

I ran a “DVD run-down” test to identify how long the battery would last under pressure and had found that the battery would run for 2hours, 10 minutes with Wi-Fi on and 2 hours, 30 minutes without Wi-Fi on when playing a DVD. This was with me using the Cyberlink DVD player utility rather than Windows Media Player. The graphics have appeared to be smooth through the movie even for a low-end full-size laptop.

Placement

This computer can work best with Web browsing, basic word-processing and other office tasks. As far as multimedia and gaming is concerned, it would work well for most video playback tasks or non-demanding games , especially when on AC power.

Here, I would recommend it as a “first laptop” for secondary-school students, a not-so-good large-screen optical-drive-equipped alternative to a netbook that is used as a secondary laptop or as a large-screen document-friendly“portable computer” for a person who uses a desktop computer as a main computer.

It can also bee seen as a “budget alternative” to a secondhand laptop computer for people who need to “cut their teeth” on computing.

Send to Kindle

Apology for test post that came through to feed or email subscribers

Hi everyone!

A few weeks ago, I had trouble with the WordPress content management system not showing up posts that I have submitted using Windows Live Writer and other programs rather than the program’s Web-based user interface. I have had to resort to “cutting and pasting” text from Windows Live Writer into WordPress’s “Add new post” data-entry form for those weeks until I had upgraded WordPress to 3.0 – the latest version.

Now I had done a test post which you may have received if you followed this blog through an RSS Webfeed, via email or on Facebook (whether you have me as a Facebook friend or have marked the HomeNetworking01.info Facebook Page as a fan). I had deleted the test post from the main homepage so it doesn’t show up in an awful light. I am sorry about this situation especially if it has cast the site in an amateurish light and this test was to prove that I can still edit offline and publish the articles online instantly or save them as a draft online so I can work on them across multiple computers.

You can still follow the site for new posts as an RSS Web feed, in your email Inbox or  on your Facebook Home Page.

Expect to see a lot more good-quality material including many reviews, feature articles and buyers’ guides to appear on this site soon,

With regards,

Simon Mackay

Send to Kindle

Product Review – Canon PIXMA MX-350 Network Multifunction Printer

I am now reviewing the Canon PIXMA MX-350, which is Canon’s mid-tier network multifunction printer. This is the first printer or multifunction device that I have reviewed on this site that is from another “stable” and it would be interesting to see how it compares with any of the equipment that I have reviewed previously. It can work with Bluetooth mobile phones if you purchase an optional Canon Bluetooth connectivity kit.

Print Scan Copy Fax Automat Document Feeder Paper Handling Connectivity
Colour Colour Colour Colour Single-Side 1 x A4 USB
Inkjet 600 dpi         Ethernet
Black + Colour           Wi-Fi G 
– WPA2 WPS
            Bluetooth (with optional kit)

Accessibility and Usage Notes

The printer has a styling that can look very confusing especially when you see the press photos or see the unit at the shop that you buy it at. It has a large body with a door on the front which is the document output tray. This can be opened manually or the printer drops this open when it starts printing. The top of the unit has a bay which you may think documents for scanning, copying or faxing but this area is where the documents are ejected from after they pass through the automatic document feeder. When you load the automatic document feeder, you have to open the flap in the middle of the top of the unit.

Canon PIXMA MX-350 ready to operate

Don’t think that if you lift up under the control panel, you will get to the inside of the printer as if to replace the ink cartridges. Here, you expose the scanner’s glass surface where you would put bound documents to be scanned. When you change the ink cartridges, you have to open the document tray manually then reach in further to lift the lid for the print mechanism. Here, this printer requires you to pull out a stay to keep the lid open when you change the cartridges.

Network Setup and Usability

I have set this unit up with the Wi-Fi network and had found that when you enter the WPA-PSK key, you have to use a mixture of “SMS-style” and “pick-n-select” text entry methods. It can also support “push-to-connect” WPS routers which should make the connection experience much easier. It can also be connected to an Ethernet network if you value the reliability of a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug) network setup or it is located near the router.

As far as the Wi-Fi network is concerned, it is responsive to print or scan jobs sent over the Wi-Fi network even if the machine had gone to a low-power mode after a period of inactivity. This is unlike some HP Wi-Fi printers that I have reviewed which require you to fully power them up at their control panel so they announce their presence on a Wi-Fi network if they have been in low-power for a while.

You still have network access to printing, scanning and faxing functions, with the last one being in the form of a “print-to-fax” function from other network computers. 

Canon PIXMA MX-350 control panel

Control panel

Functionality Notes

Walk-up Functions

Like most printers of this class, the “walk-up” scanning, faxing, copying and “print photos” are a button away. As well, the controls are laid out in a logical manner and the unit uses a bright display to help with job-specific configuration.

The menus on the control panel can be very trying to use especially if you use the wrong paper for a particular job. If the unit highlights an error with the paper type that you select for a particular job, it should then “move” you to the option concerning the paper that you select so you have the opportunity to change that option rather than throwing up the error message.

Faxing

The unit supports network-based as well as walk-up faxing for both colour and monochrome jobs but it doesn’t have functions that may be valuable for fax users. It supports user-defined “receive-to-memory” for noise-free operation at night or confidential document reception, but doesn’t support scheduled document transmission in any way.

Quick-forms

This printer supports a walk-up “template-print” function that works in a similar manner to the “Quick Forms” function on the HP Photosmart Premium Fax and other high-end HP consumer printers, where the printer can turn out pre-ruled stationery like graph paper, notebook paper or music manuscript paper. But this one has an improvement that will please the music composers and arrangers amongst us. Here, there is an option to print portrait-style manuscript sheets that have 12 staves rather than 10 which is important for work like “vocal + piano”, quartets or organ music.

The function could be improved on this machine with support for “landscape-oriented” options for some of the stationery like music paper. This function is available only through the unit’s Setup menu as “Template Print” rather than a dedicated button.

Reliability

I have run some large copy and print jobs through this printer and it is reliable enough to handle them. The ADF could handle a 20-sheet scan / copy / fax job properly and the printer can run the large jobs properly although you may have to remove the sheets from the output tray after every 50 or so sheets are printed.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation that I have found with this printer is that it uses a single colour ink cartridge rather than separate cartridges for each of the colours. This is a glaring omission because most of the equivalent models that are provided by the competing manufacturers have separate cartridges for each of the colours and would place this model at a disadvantage. The PIXMA MX-870, which has duplex printing, has support for the separate colours and this issue affects how expensive it is to run the printer. If the separate ink cartridge was to be kept as a product differentiator, Canon could provide an aftermarket option kit where the printer could be upgraded by the consumer to work with separate inks at a later date.

Another limitation that I would like to see rectified would be that the printer lid is held open with a stay that the user doesn’t need to handle, whether to open or close.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

If this printer used separate ink cartridges for each of the colours, it could stand a chance of being a serious competitor to the HP Photosmart mid-range network-enabled printers and earn itself a rightful place as a multifunction printer option for home-office or small-business use.

Send to Kindle

Feature Article – Wiring a house for Ethernet

Introduction

There may be a question that may come up when you build your new home or do renovations on an existing home. This question is whether to wire you premises for Ethernet or not and how to go about it?

What is involved when you wire for Ethernet

When you wire a house for Ethernet, you are providing a high-speed data backbone for your premises. This is achieved by laying Category 5 or Category 6 wiring from most rooms to a central location where there is a “switch” that moves data around the network at the appropriate speeds for the network devices.

The reason that it makes sense to consider the home-network issue, especially wired-in Ethernet, is because an increasing number of households are using two or more computers. Infact, there is an increasing trend for households to have more computers than TV sets. As well, computers can and have now become entertainment centres for bedrooms and other small areas thanks to DVD drives, sound-card setups and radio and TV-tuner kits that install in or connect to PCs. There is also an increasing common practice to copy CDs to the computer’s hard drive so that these computers double as personal jukeboxes, which is an asset with small areas. This means that there is a desire to have access to resources like the Internet and printers from all the computers that are in the house.

Similarly, there is new interest in the so-called “home theatre PC” where a computer is being used as a primary media center for the household. This is being achieved through the computer being housed in a case that is optimised for living-room use by having reduced operating-noise output and looking like a piece of home-entertainment equipment. These computers run an operating system that is optimised for viewing from a distance and optimised to do home-entertainment duties, plus being hooked up to the main living-room TV and sound system. This concept permits activities like the use of network media receivers as “media extenders” where one can “take” audio or video content to be viewed or listened to in other rooms.

If you have networked your computer equipment by using a “no-new-wires” method like wireless or HomePlug powerline; you may be dealing with a network that isn’t working at its best. This is because the “no-new-wires” technologies work on having the “no-new-wires” segment’s bandwidth shared by all the devices that connect to the segment. This is exemplified by poor response time during a network multiplayer game hosted across the “no-new-wires” segment or slow transfer speed whenever a file is being transferred between two nodes on the same segment.

Typically, when you implement a “no-new-wires” network, you would use a broadband router that connects to an Ethernet segment and the “no-new-wires” segment on the LAN side, like one of the many wireless Internet gateway devices. Also, if you decide to add on extra network devices, you would have to buy extra network bridges so these devices can work as part of the network.The possibility of high-speed Ethernet being available for home-computer users is made real through high-performance Ethernet network-connectivity devices being made affordable and ubiquitous for most users.

For example, there are Ethernet adaptors available for installation in PCI or ISA-based computers, or for quick connection to “sealed-box” computers via the USB port, or the PCMCIA or CompactFlash card slot. As well, allof the game consoles that are capable of online gaming have an Ethernet socket either built-in or as an extra-cost user-installed system accessory. Let’s not forget that most devices that connect to a network for some part of their functionality would have an Ethernet connector on board or on a supplied network adaptor module. Also, most newer computers are being supplied with built-in Ethernet connection abilities as a standard feature and people who build their own computers are now able to base their projects on Ethernet-equipped motherboards.

As well, the switches that are required as part of an Ethernet network are now available at very cheap prices. This all ends up with the Category 5 Ethernet medium being considered as a lowest-common-denominator for network connectivity.

Why wire a house for Ethernet?

You will benefit from the high data throughput that Ethernet provides in its current form – 100 Mbps, with 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) being available now at a slight premium for new and existing small Ethernet networks. This will benefit applications like Internet gaming, network media streaming such as Internet radio; as well as graphics-rich printing.

You also gain the advantage of reliable network behaviour because you are not regularly sharing data transports that are prone to interference. This is due to the way the common Ethernet network switches provide dedicated bandwidth to each port on them. They also scale data throughput to the highest speed available between the client and the network switch that the client is connected to. If different clients are moving data at different speeds, the switch implements a buffer so slower clients can benefit from the data while the data is off the faster clients’ minds very quickly.

As you may have known before when you have worked with the computer network at work, or with your Internet experience, the Ethernet infrastructure can carry lots of different data.

This wiring practice will get the best out of the killer applications for these home networks i.e.

  • Internet access from everywhere in the house;
  • PC or console-based network / Internet gaming;
  • Streamed media around the house using DLNA-compliant network-media equipment
  • Voice-over-Internet-Protocol telephony which is either being provided as part of a “triple-play” service or an alternative low-cost telephony service

amongst other activities as outlined below.

IP-TV / Video-on-demand and the “Triple-Play” goal

There is increased interest in delivering video content over the Internet and being able to view it on the large-screen lounge-room TV.

This is being facilitated on two different grounds – one being to provide content complementary to or an extension of what is offered by broadcast TV providers and the other is for telecommunications companies and Internet providers to distribute multi-channel pay-TV via the same Internet “pipe” as the telephone service and broadband Internet service.

The first situation is to provide “over-the-top” video service where the Internet “pipe” is used by another operator to distribute streamed or downloaded video content independent of the broadcasters. It manifests in the form of “download-to-view” video-content services like Netflix, CASPA and Hulu or “complementary cable services” which provide channel groups that may not interest the main cable-TV providers, such as wholesome family entertainment or overseas / expat content in the US.  Increasingly, network-enabled video products like games consoles, TVs and BD-Live Blu-Ray players are now using apps or extensions that support broadcaster “catch-up TV”, complementary-TV or video-on-demand platforms.

The second situation comes to  “IP-TV” where TV signals are transmitted via an IP-based Internet-capable network. This method is being pitched as a way of using DSL or fibre-optic-based next-generation-broadband to distribute Pay-TV signals to subscribers. This has become more so with the ISPs and telcos moving towards offering “single-pipe triple-play” services with regular telephony, Internet service and multi-channel pay-TV from the same entry point. It involves the provision of a set-top box (STB) or personal video recorder which plugs in to the router via an Ethernet cable.

As far as this application is concerned, a house that is wired for Ethernet is at an advantage for the “IP-TV” service. It benefits security of the conditional-access system because it is harder to unnoticeably “sniff” out conditional-access key values before they reach the STB; and there is high quality of service due to the nature of “switched Ethernet” where high bandwidth and low-latency is assured for full-screen video. Also there is the ability to extend the service either through a “portable” setup where the STB is relocated at will or through having extra STBs connected to secondary TV sets, this being a feature increasingly offered as a value-added option.

Extending or improving the wireless network

Two access points used to extend wireless-network coverage in older house

Improving wireless-network coverage in older house

By wiring your house for Ethernet, you are also laying an infrastructure that can definitely work “hand-in-glove” with wireless networking.

This is whether you have your home network based on a wireless backbone provisioned by a wireless router or you are starting from scratch with a wired backbone. If you were on an existing wireless network, you could set up your “fixed” nodes like desktop PCs to work on the Ethernet system.

This then leads to the wireless network being primarily of benefit to those devices that gain the most benefit from it i.e. portable or transportable nodes like laptops, PDAs and Web tablets.

You are also in a better position to improve your wireless network’s performance by implementing a practice that is performed in corporate, education or public wireless networks. This is to install one or more extra access points in areas where it is not possible to gain optimum reception from your primary wireless access point or wireless router using your existing portable nodes. All these access points are connected to the one wired-Ethernet infrastructure and set to similar network parameters so that the wireless client devices can seamlessly move between these access points depending on which one has the best signal strength. This is illustrated in the diagram above this text and discussed further in my article on improving your wireless network’s coverage.

This situation would mainly affect most pre-1950s brick houses with thick brick walls because such walls can easily attenuate the short-wavelength radio signal that wireless networks use. In some of these houses that have been recently extended, the wall that joins the extension to the main house is often a very thick one because it used to be the outside wall, and therefore becomes the point of attenuation for the short-wavelength wireless-network radio signals. The same situation can affect houses with chimneys that are on interior walls that adjoin rooms. In these houses, especially where there is a fireplace or the remnants thereof in both adjoining rooms, these walls are noticeably thick in order to accommodate the chimney and this situation can lead to poor wireless-network performance. It can also affect buildings that are insulated with foil-reflective

This practice of using two or more access points would also permit optimum coverage of large houses by allowing one to deploy an access point close to each end of the house.

In the same manner, you can use HomePlug powerline  networking to complement the Ethernet network by catering to those devices that can only use this technology. This is done using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge. This functionality may be built in to those routers that support HomePlug, as well as Ethernet and/or wireless as a LAN medium.

The reason this is going to be necessary in the long term because some manufacturers may decide to make network-capable devices that use an “existing-connection” method of providing network connectivity in order to save on design and manufacture costs. This is because they don’t have to add extra sockets on the device’s PCB for Ethernet or write in Ethernet-adaptor support into the device’s firmware. As far as the user or installer is concerned, there is no need to worry about making sure that there is an Ethernet connection accessible to the device or even connect another cable to that device.

Whether you have one computer or many on your premises; or whether you have broadband Internet or dial-up, the improvement brought about by wiring for Ethernet will be seen as enhancing capital value for your premises. This may certainly pay dividends whenever you sell the house or rent it out at a later date, because of the concept of pervasive broadband Internet becoming a reality. This brings with it a desire to wire up multiple computers to a network in order to share the high-speed Internet connection.

The Ethernet infrastructure has now existed on the same feature level as an intruder-alarm system as far as most customers are concerned when considering their next home.

The best time to wire for Ethernet

The best time to do this kind of work is whenever you are doing works that are involving the house’s electrical system. This would involve rebuilding; refurbishing or extending the building or rewiring the building to comply with modern electrical-safety codes.

This will mean that you may prefer to employ electrical contractors who are competent with telecom and data wiring. These tradesmen will advertise their competence by listing job types like telephones, networks, security and similar work in their advertisements and on their vehicles.

If you have a regular maintenance “sparkie” who does your repairs or other ad-hoc work, he may be able to do this kind of work or know of tradesmen who can do this kind of work on an ad-hoc basis.The reason is that this wiring can be done at the same time as the electrical wiring that is involved in the project.

It comes in to its own if there is “rough-wiring” being done before the walls are plastered or panelled; which is common during building work. Then you just need to have any fitting-off of sockets done when the walls have been covered and decorated.

If the job is essentially a re-wire job, the same electricians who do that job can pull the Ethernet cable through the walls while they lay the new AC wiring. By having the work done at the same time as any other major electrical work, you are in a position to gain maximum value out of your tradesmen who charge by the man-hour.

If you are installing an alarm system or doing similar work where new electrical infrastructure is being laid, you could have the Ethernet wiring laid at this point. This works best if the tradesman that you engage is competent at all facets of infrastructure work and will do this as part of the job.How to go about it

Central location

You will need to choose a location for the network switch, which is where all the data that passes the network goes through. It should be out of the way but easily accessible and shouldn’t be too hot.

The places that would come to mind are any built-in storage cupboards like the broom cupboard, the linen press or a built-in wardrobe in one of the bedrooms. You may use a place like the attic or basement. As I have seen for an alarm-system installation, you may use the wall hidden by the laundry door when it is open as a central location for the network switch. Ideally you shouldn’t use a room which is used for any heat-generating systems like hot water tanks, boilers or furnaces.

Tight central location layout for Ethernet switch

What to avoid when working out the Ethernet-switch location

If you are wiring an existing house for Ethernet and the premises is equipped with a security system, it is a good idea to locate this switch in the same area as this system’s central box. This means that if you decide to upgrade the alarm system to a more sophisticated security / home-automation “hub” that has a network interface, you can connect this unit to the home network cheaply and easily. In most cases, this kind of upgrade can be done with the same system peripherals (PIR and other sensors, siren, strobe light) all intact and able to work with the new system. You may also have to be sure that you have enough space near the system’s central box and room at the power outlet to plug in another “wall-wart” power supply so you can install the Ethernet switch without reliability problems for the network and the alarm system.

It also allows you to establish an installation point for any devices that provide “back-end” functionality for the home like network-attached-storage devices. It then means that you can service all these devices by going to one location.

The network switch

As for the switch, you should purchase a dual-speed (10/100 Mbps) unit with more ports than there are rooms to wire. This allows you to add extra network points at a later date or connect network devices like Ethernet-powerline bridges, wireless access points, network-attached storage or home-automation equipment directly to the switch.

There are many three-speed Gigabit Ethernet switches that are being sold at an extra per-port premium over the common 10/100 Ethernet switches. These would mainly appeal to those users who intend to work with high-bandwidth video or similar applications. They also have to work with network adaptors that are capable of working at the Gigabit speed, some of which are now under the $100 mark for a basic PCI unit. They are still worth considering if you want to have a future-proof high-speed Ethernet infrastructure.

It is also worth being aware of and considering switches that work as Power-Over-Ethernet power sources. These units use the Ethernet wiring to provide power to suitably equipped network devices thus eliminating the need to run a power wire to these devices. This feature would be a boon for wireless access points and network CCTV cameras because it removes the need to make sure that there is a power outlet near these devices or risk them being “down” due to accidental power disconnection.

Rooms to wire

When wiring up for Ethernet, it is a good idea to provide a point in each bedroom as well as the kitchen, living room, dining room / family room and the study or home office. This means that you have covered every primary activity area in your home, thus permitting you to install network devices in each of these areas.

You may not think of wiring the living room for Ethernet but this room is where you will end up using networked entertainment equipment. Such equipment could range from network media clients that either are connected to or are part of the TV and stereo to present digital photos, digital video clips and music files through these devices; through the popular online-ready games consoles like the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, to dedicated media servers that present media that is stored on them over the home network. As mentioned earlier, an increasing number of affordably-priced desktop computers that are being sold by main-street computer stores are being designed to look like and behave like home-entertainment equipment, in order to be considered acceptable in rooms other than the study or kid’s bedroom. For example, you could easily think that a few of the newer home computers like the MSI MegaPC systems (Figure 2) resemble some of those bookshelf music systems that are sold at department stores and discount electrical stores.

Another reason would be that one may want to use a laptop computer in the living room during winter if there is an open fire, pot-belly stove or a radiant-style heater. This is because when these heat sources are in use, they become the focal point of the house.

If you use an open-plan shared-purpose room like the kitchen / family room or living room / dining room, it may be a good idea to have a network point in each logical “room”. This will avoid the untidy look and safety hazard (to person, machine and irreplaceable items) of running long cords across the floor of these rooms.

When choosing the socket type for the room sockets, it is best practice to use a standard wall-mount socket for each of these sockets. You may be tempted to use a side-entry socket, which is similar to some TV aerial points that are commonly used in Australia or the older Telecom Australia telephone connector. The problem with using a side-entry socket is that you may experience difficulty plugging and unplugging the device from the socket especially if the cable has the cheaper crimped-on connector.

If the job is aesthetically sensitive, you may be able to find outlet plates that work with the aesthetics of the room where the sockets are installed. This is easy due to the use of standard wall fitting designs that permit manufacturers to supply a large variety of trim-plates or socket modules. This can be of importance to anyone who owns a period home and wants to keep the fittings in tune with the home’s period.

Broadband Internet

You will usually the network-Internet “edge” router, whether it is an ADSL router or a broadband router connected to a cable modem or similar broadband-technology device, either in the study, the home office or the main lounge area and will most likely have Ethernet-enabled devices located close to it. Here, you would connect one of the router’s Ethernet ports to the Ethernet installation while having the other sockets available for the other Ethernet-enabled devices like a games console, network-attached storage or network printer.

Multiple Points in one room

In some rooms like the kitchen or home office, you will need to be able to have more than one point in that room. This is because you will often end up with multiple devices in that same room.

Extra ports on the main switch

This method involves running extra wires from that room to where the main switch is located and using one of the vacant ports on that main switch. This may allow direct bandwidth being provided to the device that is connected to the port; and can therefore yield better performance for that device. This method also certainly comes in handy when the devices are spread around the room because the room has multiple activity locations such as open-plan living areas.

It would be more fault-tolerant due to the removal of another Ethernet switch that could be a point of failure for the network devices in that room.

Regional switch

This method requires all the network devices to be plugged in to a switch, which is uplinked to the network point that is in that room. This mainly works better for any setups where the devices exist in a cluster; such as a home entertainment centre or a home office / study room.

The only main problem is that if the switch is powered down, those devices lose network connectivity. This can be worsened by the way that “wall-wart” power supplies are often used for powering most switches, routers and other network-infrastructure devices. What this means is that these bulky power supplies can easily fall out of most power boards which have outlets that are spaced wide enough for ordinary plugs rather than these “wall-warts”.

This can be alleviated if there is use of Power Over Ethernet, which uses the same Ethernet cables to run low-voltage DC power to network devices. This avoids the need for power outlets to exist near Ethernet ports for devices like access points. The power is placed into the network via a powered switch or a midspan power injector and devices take the power off the network cables either via their own sockets or through a power splitter which connects to the device’s Ethernet socket and power socket.

The Power-Over-Ethernet setup has been assisted via the use of the IEEE 802.3af standard, which now means interoperability between different device manufacturers. As far as switches are concerned, this could mean that you could have a network-powered 5-port switch with “power forwarding”. This means that the switch can be powered via a network port from a Power Over Ethernet infrastructure rather than a “wall-wart”; and feeds power through at least one of its ports to a network device that is powered over the network.

It can also be alleviated if the switch is powered off its own outlet, which would be the case if it is hidden in a built-in cupboard. This also avoids the temptation for one to unplug the switch in order to run other appliances, which can lead to that part of the network being unexplainably down.

Expandable solution for built-in devices

Expansion loop - current situation

Expansion loop - current needs

One way to assure expandability for future network needs while saving costs on the current project is to create an “expansion loop” in areas where you may want to install built-in network devices. This could be easily done for an Ethernet point that covers the kitchen where you want to be able to install a built-in Internet terminal like the IceBox FlipScreen kitchen entertainment centre at a later date; while catering for existing needs. At the moment, these devices are equipped with an Ethernet socket as their broadband / network connection method. The same practice can also be done for rooms like the master bedroom or the living room where you think that you may add extra built-in network devices or network points at a later date.

By installing two Ethernet sockets in a cupboard such as the pantry or built-in wardrobe, you would achieve this ability to cater for this situation. One of the sockets is wired to a point that is in the main area, such as at the breakfast bar. The other is wired to the main Ethernet switch for the home network.

These sockets could be installed in a “three-gang” or “four-gang” faceplate with blanking panels on the unused panels. Then, in the meantime, a straight-through Ethernet patch cable is plugged into both sockets. This then means that you are able to connect any computers or other network devices to this socket that is in the main area.

When the time comes to add a built-in Internet terminal or similar network device, or add extra network sockets; you or an installer, runs a short run of Ethernet cable from the new device’s or new socket’s location to where the two Ethernet sockets are. Then, a socket is installed at the device’s location and another Ethernet socket is inserted in to the abovementioned multi-gang faceplate and these sockets are connected to the Ethernet cable run. You then use a 5-port switch to connect this device and the existing network socket to the existing network backbone. Here, the switch is uplinked to the main Ethernet switch while the existing Ethernet point and the new device are connected to other ports on the switch.

Expansion loop - satisfying a future networking need

Expansion loop - satisfying a future networking need

This solution, which is illustrated in the two images here can also permit other “back-end” network devices such as security and home-automation “hubs” to be installed in this cupboard. As well, other network devices such as network hard drives and Ethernet-“no-new-wires” bridges can he installed in this location. It could even allow one to run extra Ethernet points in this same area at a later date.

Conclusion

Once you consider the idea of wiring for Ethernet, you would certainly have prepared your house for the connected home future. As mentioned before, this act of wiring for Ethernet will be even considered as a capital improvement, which may add value to your house in the Internet age.

You will also avoid the need to think about extra wiring chores should you think of implementing network-based home automation in the future, especially when most “connected-home” equipment will use a standard Ethernet connection on it.

 

Send to Kindle

Product Review – Hewlett-Packard LaserJet M1210 Series laser multi-function printer

Here, I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet M1210 Series laser multi-function printer which is a network-enabled monochrome laser printer with integrated scan, copy and fax functionality.  It will also be the first review where I will be providing a “functionality table” for each of the printers that I review

HP LaserJet M1210 Series multi-function laser printer

PRINT SCAN COPY FAX Document Feeder Paper Trays Connect
B/W Colour B/W B/W Single-side 1 x A4 USB
Laser Xerographic 1200 dpi         Ethernet

 Setup experience

This printer was the second printer that I had come across which didn’t need me loading a CD or finding a file on the Internet for me to set it up. Instead, I could find the file on a separate “drive letter” in Windows Explorer if I connected the printer directly. In the case of network connectivity, the printer lit up in the “Network” folder and I could right-click on its icon to open the printer’s Webpage. Then I clicked on the “HP Smart Install” tab on this Webpage and clicked on the “Download” option to start downloading the drivers that I needed.

My test setup involved the unit being connected via a HomePlug powerline network segment and it has performed equally well with this setup. This has also again proven for me that the HomePlug powerline network can work well where flexibility is desired such as temporary networks.

Printing and Copying

The unit was very quick when it came to yielding the printed output. It could come up from a “cold state” and start printing 5 seconds after receiving a print job and could start copying within 10 seconds of you pressing the “Copy” button. The pages then come out fast and furious at about 4 seconds per page.  Another thing that has impressed me is that if the printer needed to be restocked with paper during a copy job, it will keep scanning the rest of the originals in the document feeder while you load the paper tray.

I have noticed that the pages come much warmer that on the HP LaserJet Pro P1560 due to the fusing rollers (the rollers that use heat to bond the toner to the paper in a xerographic printing setup) running at a higher temperature. This may be a need that is required for the toner that this machine uses but some papers like certain recycled papers may be affected more by this with extra curling. From my observations, there hasn’t caused been any jamming problems with this unit caused by the extra curling with the paper.

Fax

The fax functionality was able to match the requirements for a small or medium-size business. These included operation on the same telephone line, with support for distinctive-ring (Faxstream Duet) or auto-fax-detect operation as well as the ability to send many fax jobs from memory at a later time. Another feature I was impressed with was the “private receive” mode where the machine will receive all the fax jobs to its memory and print them when you enter a “release code” that you define yourself. This can ensure that the faxes that you receive remain confidential by avoiding the situation where received faxes lie in the output tray for anyone to pick up and read.

Scan

The network-enabled scanner has the ability to scan in colour and at 1200 dpi. It can work as part of Windows Image Acquisition or HP scan software primarily on a PC-initiated scan option. There isn’t an option for control-panel-initiated scanning, whether direct or via the network.

Reliability.

I have tested this printer on a large print job and it has worked properly without jamming. I also did a copy job with many pages and had found that the automatic document feeder is reliable with 20 A4 sheets of regular paper. When you are copying documents, the automatic document feeder can make a loud “grating” noise as it handles documents and make the machine sound more noisier during this process.

Limitations

There are a few limitations with this machine. The main one is that the control panel can be improved ergonomically. It has a small alphanumeric LCD display that could benefit from a backlight and the buttons on the keypad could be made larger or spaced further apart. This would allow for increased useability when it comes to “walk-up” copying, scanning or faxing.

HP LaserJet M1210 Series control panel

Small control panel and display

Like the HP LaserJet Pro P1560 laser printer that I reviewed in this blog previously, there isn’t a “disc-free” setup option for the Apple MacOS X platform. This could be facilitated by the provision of the necessary software files in the same storage area which is presented as a USB Mass-Storage device and available over the network as a Web download from the same HTTP server.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this unit as being useful as an all-in-one printer/copier/fax where quick document turnout is desired and colour printing is not necessary. This would be as a main “reception-desk” unit for small legal offices or medical practices or as a workgroup fax / scanner / printer. It could work well as a highly-functional replacement for a low-end laser or thermal-transfer fax machine that has reached the end of its useful life.

Send to Kindle

Reorganisation of the Product Reviews page

Hi everyone!

I am reorganising the Product Reviews page after reviewing a lot of equipment over the last few months. What I have done is to put the review lists for the printers and the laptop / notebook / netbook computers on separate pages that can be accessed from the Product Reviews page or the top menu. This will be a step towards making this list become less cluttered as I receive more products for review.

Also, if you think that the only printers being reviewed in this site are Hewlett-Packard units, there is something coming around soon in the form of a Canon PIXMA MX-350 network-enabled consumer all-in-one inkjet unit that I have received today for reviewing. I am also establishing relationships with other manufacturers in order to review many different brands of product.

WIth regards,

Simon Mackay

Send to Kindle