The Hows & Whys of Wireless Butte MT
The Hows & Whys of Wireless
October 1, 2005 By John Biggs
Of all the promises the tech industry has made over the years, none has been more surprising, and more satisfying, than the promise of the wireless home. Until a few years ago, the only way to get whole-house video and audio was to run wires behind walls and through floors. A single whole-house wiring job could run six figures and sometimes quickly became obsolete. But now there’s a better way.
With the rise of WiFi—the wireless computer networking standard that has taken homes, hotels, and Starbucks franchises by storm—and a growing number of wireless audio and video products, multiroom entertainment need not be a costly or even difficult endeavor. Custom installers and even PC-savvy homeowners can build and install entire wireless systems in a day or two using off-the-shelf parts that connect directly into any stereo or home theater system.
Before we begin a tour of some of the latest systems, let’s talk a bit about the current possibilities—and impossibilities—of wireless A/V.
WiFi, or 802.11b, is best known in business circles as a technology that lets employees access the Internet from anywhere in an office building. The 802.11b standard and its successor, 802.11g, both run on the same 2.4-megahertz frequency as many cordless phones, thereby bypassing the expensive process of leasing other bands from the Federal Communications Commission. Early versions of the standard often interfered with other wireless devices, but most of these problems have been ironed out. As long as your 2.4 MHz cordless phone is far removed from your wireless access point or router (the transmitter/receiver for a WiFi network), there should be almost no interference.
Unfortunately, plain old WiFi isn’t very good at media, for the same reason that the Internet makes a dicey medium for live delivery of entertainment. Data travels over WiFi in packets. These packets can arrive in any order, meaning that e-mails and still images are reassembled like jigsaw puzzle pieces. However, when video or even high-quality streaming audio are broken into packets, you can experience annoying gaps and skips in playback. That may be acceptable when you are watching a news short on a PC, but it’s horrible if you’re listening to music or watching a movie on a home theater system.
The solution? Quality of Service (QoS). Many wireless home device manufacturers are using proprietary QoS software to ensure that all the pieces of your movies, TV shows, and music come together in the right place at the right time. And performance will improve further as new, improved versions of WiFi come on line. After decades of sorting through the spaghetti in our A/V racks, we are finally being delivered from the mess and confusion of wires.
Setting Up a Wireless Home Network
A wireless home network—the starting point for any wireless audio/ video distribution system—is simple to set up. If you really don’t want to bother, your custom electron...