What You Really Wanted for Xmas: Wireless Video

WLANs are often cited as having a bright future in video distribution in the residence, as I've written on this before. In fact, I think wireless is going to be the only viable option here going forward. Power-line modems might work in some cases, but I don't think they'll be suitable for video in most applications due to noise and interference on the power lines themselves. Running cable is (almost) always an option, but it's expensive and limits both installation options and mobility. Regardless, as you might have already guessed, I've gone wireless.

At present, my implementation involves a Motorola DCT 6412 HDTV cable box/DVR from Comcast (which, by the way, has serious issues with noise, heat, physical size, hard-drive capacity, image quality, excessive monthly charges, a lack of networking and other connector support, and very sluggish response to remote control commands) connected via the optional HD component video cable to a Slingbox Pro (which only has issues with price, having no HDMI input(s), and some user-interface quirks on the associated Slingplayer client) connected to an SMC SMCWEB-N .11n AP/client. The SMC box is important because, via a slide switch on the back, it can be configured as either an AP (but not a router) or a client - as in "game adapter". In this mode it's configured via HTTP and then connected via an Ethernet cable to whatever - in my case, the SlingBox. This is the only .11n game-adapter product I'm aware of at present.

In my current configuration, the client is in the second-floor master bedroom. The other end of the connection is in the basement, where the Gig-E switch is, and is at present an SMC SMCWGBR14-N router, which connects to the rest of the (wired) network and thus allows any PC on the network to access TV. One of these isn't, however, on the wire; it's a PC in the Farpoint Group Wireless Media Facility (WMF), aka the former second-floor bedroom of my elder daughter Stephanie, who has moved to Washington DC and is having a truly marvelous time working at a major security trade association. This room has one rule associated with it - no media, and no wires of any form, are allowed in, save for an upconverting DVD player which is used only as a reference. So, watching TV here (which is done for research purposes only, as there is seldom anything worth watching on TV) is necessarily wireless. No problem - I'm presently using an SMC SMCWUSBS-N USB adapter on the PC in the WMF, and the quality is just fine - despite the signal having to go through the router and then wirelessly out again. I do notice, however, an occasional hiccup in the video, which is due to the cable box itself. I've not seen any wireless-related artifacts yet, which is a little surprising but perhaps shouldn't be given where .11n is these days. I'm also using another SMCWUSBS-N on a notebook to test truly mobile TV, and that is also working fine at present. The SMC products work flawlessly and their client software is terrific.

But I also plan to try another approach in a couple of months, and that is using a .11n-based wireless mesh. Having to hop through the router using 2.4 GHz. spectrum may ultimately turn out to be a bad idea for isochronous traffic like video, even though the effective data rate is only around three Mbps, but it may wind up competing with lots of other traffic from time to time. A mesh would enable direct point-to-point routing where possible, with less direct routing as an automatic backup, and ideally the mesh product will utilize the 5 GHz. spectrum, of which there is a lot with little opportunity, at least at present, for interference.

Regardless, the time for wireless video - both residential and enterprise - is now. I expect, BTW, that we'll see increasing use of both audio and video media in the workplace in 2008, as media production costs continue to decline. In fact, I am planning on producing a few videos myself next year, and I'll let you know about these as they become available. In the meantime, Farpoint Group is at least in theory closed this week, as I work on new servers and other assorted network tweaks. Best wishes for a very pleasant holiday to all, and see you in 2008.

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