Four Reasons Why You Need a Home Network 
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Written by Bryan Dailey   
Thursday, 01 April 2004

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Four Reasons Why You Need a Home Network

By Bryan Dailey
April 2004

If you live in a major metropolitan area, it seems like the Internet is everywhere. You can’t go into a Starbucks without seeing the signs promoting the fact that they offer a wireless Internet connection so you can sip some latte and surf the Net on your laptop. Wireless networks are popping up at airports, laundromats, and even bowling alleys nationwide. At home, you likely have an Internet connection in your den, office or maybe your bedroom, but as wireless networks become more affordable and easier to set up, you now have the ability to utilize the Internet in your home theater system in ways you might never have thought possible. This month, we look at four reasons why you should have an Internet network throughout your home.

1. Network Connectivity For Your Home Theater
Audio/video components are becoming more advanced and computer-like. Instead of having a piece of gear that has a limited lifespan, many new AV preamps, DVD players and receivers now have the ability to have their software and firmware upgraded. Software-based upgrades can help prevent obsolescence in the future and make your life easier in the present, so that you’ll be glad you have a network connection in your home theater system. Imagine you have just bought the biggest, baddest new AV preamp, but six months later, you are at your wits’ end because it is acting strangely. It turns out that the manufacturer found a major glitch in the operating system and is offering a replacement version of the software. Someday soon, it may be possible to allow the manufacturer or your AV installer to access the gear in your network remotely via an Internet connection to perform the software reinstall. Without a network connection in your system, you may have to remove the preamp from your system and lug it over to your computer to download the new software, or even worse, send it back to the dealer or manufacturer. If you think this sounds like a pipe dream, consider the fact that home automation systems from companies like AMX and Crestron currently allow dealers to control their clients’ systems remotely. The ability to have remote access to your individual components for installs, upgrades and troubleshooting can’t be far behind.

There may come a day when copy-protected HDTV feeds of current feature films will be piped into your home theater on a pay-per-view basis. Video and audio post-production houses use high-speed Internet connections to transfer video and sound files back and forth to various locations around the world, and many movie theaters with digital projection systems are doing this as well. If the day comes when movie and television content is distributed this way, you’ll be glad that you planned ahead with a network connection installed in your home theater system.

Music servers are becoming more popular and it’s not unheard of for a die-hard music fan to log on to his or her home music server from work to listen to a music collection remotely at the office. If you know the IP address of your friend’s music server and have the proper authority, you could log on to his or her server and listen to your friend’s collection remotely as well. If you have ever used Napster or the Gnutella network in the past, it is the same concept. However, in this case, you are accessing a specific computer rather than a worldwide network.

2. Using Your TiVo As a Media Server
You’re going to be stuck at the office late and, on your way to work, you realize that you forgot to set the TiVo to record Monday Night Football. If you have a new Generation 2 TiVo with the Home Media option and it is hooked up to the Internet, you won’t have to rely on calling your next-door neighbor to go set your TiVo. With TiVo’s Home Media option (a $99 one-time fee), you can log onto your TiVo from any computer that is connected to the Internet and can tell it what shows to record. From the first day I installed a TiVo in my system, I longed for this feature. I knew it was just a matter of time before you’d be able to hook the TiVo up to the Internet and schedule show recording remotely.

TiVo is pretty much a simple computer with a Linux operating system that is hooked up to your television instead of a computer monitor. Computer geeks and TiVo enthusiasts have created an impressive amount of software and hardware to tweak out and modify the device, but even if you don’t feel like taking on the challenge of installing a bigger hard drive or learning how to output the signal of your TiVo so that you can burn DVDs of your favorite show, you can put your TiVo on the Internet and enjoy features that most users fail to utilize. Besides remote scheduling of shows on the Internet, the TiVo Home Media option allows multi-room viewing (requiring more than one Series 2 TiVo unit), gives you the ability to use your TiVo as a jukebox to play your MP3 collection off of your computer and the ability to store and view your digital photos on your TV through the TiVo. There are better ways to accomplish all of these tasks, but not everyone has the money and resources to get a dedicated music server and a dedicated video sever, so the TiVo home media option allows the user to have a multi-media server in the home for a fraction of the price of the high-end systems that you see featured every month in

3. Surfing The Net Throughout Your House
If you have a high-speed Internet connection in your home, chances are, you use the Internet more than the average person does. Although most Internet service providers (ISPs) do not technically support splitting your Internet connection to share throughout your home, they realize that it is a popular new consumer phenomenon. The days of people having just one computer in their home are fading, especially with the popularity of laptop computers and wireless Internet capable PDAs. By networking your Internet connection throughout your home, you can enjoy your high-speed connection in as many different rooms as you’d like, as long as you have enough computers, enough ports on your router and additional expansion hubs, if necessary.

If you opt for a wireless connection, you’ll enjoy even more freedom as you tote your laptop around the house with you and plop down on the couch in front of the TV. I didn’t feel the need to have a laptop computer until adding a wireless network to my home. Now I can be anywhere in the house and can check sports scores, download email or make sure the server is working properly. A major benefit of running a wireless connection in your home in the fact that you won’t have to worry about the expense of tearing open walls or pulling up the carpet to install unsightly cables throughout your home.

4. Online Gaming
Video games are fun to play with your friends when they come over, but what if your favorite gaming buddy lives halfway across the country? Playing games online is not a new concept, but only recently has the technology advanced far enough that is actually makes sense to invest in a PlayStation 2, XBox or GameCube in order to play games online. The game systems have always been great, but now with more and more people having high-speed Internet in their homes, the amount of people gaming online has increased dramatically.

Each of the gaming consoles has its own hardware that is required, and sometimes a subscription fee is likewise required to access online gaming networks, so you’ll want to do some in-depth research to find out what system is best for your needs if you want to get into the world of online gaming. I have played countless hours of EA Sports’ NBA Live 2003 against friends of mine online with our Sony PlayStations and have played many a game of Microsoft’s NFL Fever 2004 against total strangers using my XBox. I have hardwired my game systems, but wireless solutions for most of the game systems are available.

Wired or Wireless & 802.11b or 802.11g?
Many people are already convinced that they need to have their high-speed Internet connection networked throughout their homes, but don’t know how to go about doing it. publisher Jerry Del Colliano recently rewired the speaker wires in his home and while the walls were torn open, he ran enough Cat 5 Ethernet wire throughout his walls to hog-tie a small army. He now has his high-speed cable modem connections available at several outlets in the house and, with a short Cat 5 extension cord, he can take a laptop into the bedroom, office or kitchen and hook up to any of the Internet connection points in the house. This is the best way to go if you want to have an ultra-fast connection that is free of the security risks that wireless networks face, but there are a few downsides to the hardwired in-wall installation. With a hardwired connection in the wall, branching out from a router, you don’t need to worry about running encryption that prevents your neighbors from stealing your signal, but if a cord goes bad or a mouse gets into the wall and chews on a cord, you are going to lose that connection until you get inside the walls and replace it.

I had installed a small network in my last apartment and since I was just renting the place, I ran wires from the main router in the master bedroom to the living room and the second bedroom under the carpet. This was not as slick as running the wires in the walls and terminating them at outlets at the wall, but back in 1998, the fact that I even had a home network put me way ahead of the curve technologically. When I moved into a townhouse that I recently purchased, I decided that computer networking had advanced enough and the prices had become so reasonable that I wanted to explore the option of installing an 802.11a or 802.11b wireless network. When I installed my wireless network a year and a half ago, the dilemma of whether or not to get 802.11a or b had just about faded. The differences between the two are significant, but rather than get mired down in the details of the two, I’ll just tell you that by the time I installed my network, 802.11b had pretty much emerged as the standard. The original Macintosh AirPort card was an 802.11b unit, so it was a no-brainer that I’d use this format for my wireless network.

As nice and convenient as the 802.11b wireless network is to have, anyone who has surfed the web on a hardwired network longs for the blazing speed that 802.11b just cannot offer, especially when being run encrypted to prevent hackers from getting into the network and monkeying with your files. The answer to this problem is called 802.11g. If your brain is now spinning from all this “A”, “B” and “G” talk, here is the simple breakdown. 802.11g is about five times faster than 802.11b (approximately 11mbps vs. 54mbps, respectively), but is more expensive. Modern computers are starting to support the 802.11g standard (i.e., Apple’s Airport Extreme is a fancy way of saying 802.11g-compatible) and the prices of the routers, cards and hubs you will need are already falling, so I highly recommend going with 802.11g. If you already have an 802.11b wireless router and network cards for your computer, you can be assured that 802.11g is backwards-compatible to 802.11b.

There is a huge selection of hardwired and wireless routers on the market today. Flip through the ads in the Sunday paper for companies like Best Buy, CompUSA or Circuit City, and you’ll see great prices on the equipment that you’ll need to network your computer. For $200 or less, you can network several computers. If you are not computer savvy, it may be a bit of a struggle to get your network set up, but manufacturers such as D-Link, Linksys and NETGEAR all offer phone support for a period of time after purchasing your equipment and this will usually help you solve 95 percent of the problems that you may have when setting up a network. Enlisting the help of a technically-minded friend is another way to go, but the best way is to jump in feet first and try to learn how to do it yourself. Remember to read the instructions. This isn't rocket science, but if you've never done it before, you likely won’t be able to wing it. Before you know it, you’ll learn how to set up your router, block unwanted users and absorb many other tricks that will allow you to enjoy your Internet connection throughout your home in ways that you may never before have imagined possible.

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