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Steve Withers from AV Forums takes a look at an elegant solution to creating a wired network
We recently reviewed HDanywhere’s distribution system here and whilst we were very impressed with its overall performance, it had one obvious drawback - you needed to rewire your home with Cat5e/6/7 cables in order to actually use it. What if you want to distribute digital data around your home but don’t want the hassle, mess and expense of rewiring. Obviously you could go the wireless route but that can lead to issues with interference and reliability; so is there is an alternative that is more robust and ‘grounded’? That cunning segue brings us to the concept of using the power cables already installed in your home as the basis for a wired network. It’s a clever idea that has been around for years but now allows you to distribute bandwidth intensive data. In fact, the transmission speeds can be high enough to send multiple HDTV signals and even 3D content over your power line communication network.
There are a number of competing products available and most, such as Netgear’s Powerline Nano500, involve simply plugging the adapters into a wall socket - using a minimum of two to create a network. However if you are looking for something a little more elegant, there is Power Ethernet’s All-in-One Ethernet Enabled Powerline Socket. Instead of plugging in the adapter you actually replace your existing two-gang wall socket with one of Power Ethernet’s sockets. Obviously there is more effort involved and you lose a wall socket but the results are far more aesthetically pleasing. So let’s take a closer look at the technology behind Power Ethernet’s all-in-one sockets and see how they perform under scrutiny.
Power Ethernet's all-in-one sockets provide an excellent solution to anyone wanting to create a wired network in their home without all the cost, mess and disruption of having one installed. Whilst the sockets themselves may be slightly more expensive than the normal plug-in adapters, the results look far more attractive and professional. Installation is very straightforward, although we would recommend using a qualified electrician in the interests of safety. The build quality of the sockets themselves is excellent and Power Ethernet claim that their sockets use nearly a hundred additional electronic components in order to improve both the network quality and durability of the sockets themselves. They also include four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports rather than the standard one, which makes them more flexible. In terms of other specifications, the sockets are paired using 128-bit AES encryption and support Windows, Mac, Linux and all operating systems with a RJ45 Ethernet port. Power Ethernet claim that their sockets can deliver data via Ethernet across a meshed network at up to 200Mbps (gross) and that the range between sockets is up to 300m over the mains cables.
The setup was very simple and thanks to the LED lights we were quickly able to establish a working, secure and robust network. We found that the sockets performed very well in testing and we connected a variety of devices including laptops, BD players, TVs and games consoles without any problems. Of course Power Ethernet's claim of 200Mbps gross combines both the uplink and downlink speeds which means that the maximum is 100Mbps each way. However, since the Ethernet ports are 10/100Mbps that has no real bearing on the performance and besides, you'll be lucky to get 100 Mbps over a Powerline network anyway. We were genuinely impressed with both the professional look of the Power Ethernet sockets and their ability to create a highly effective network in our testing environment. Of course, this approach is never going to fully replace a proper installed network and despite Power Ethernet's claim that up to 64 sockets can be installed into a network, it's highly unlikely your power lines could handle that.
As a quick and tidy solution to creating a wired network at home, the Power Ethernet all-in-one sockets deliver the goods. They retail for £110 each but obviously you'll need two to create a network, so the minimum outlay is around £220 plus the cost of an electrician. This is considerably less than getting your home wired with Ethernet cable but is more than most plug-in adapters, although you're paying for the looks as much as the performance. However, if you're an AVForums member you can buy the sockets from Power Ethernet for £96 each, which is handy. Ultimately, the Power Ethernet all-in-one sockets provide an elegant and professional looking solution to the problem of creating a wired network at home. They may be slightly more expensive than normal plug-in solutions but the aesthetics, flexibility and performance make up for that.