Sure, the future is all about video this and multimedia that and hooking your TV to the network and watching shows over the Internet from anywhere… but the short-term money is still in the routers and PC cards with the newest technology. At least, that’s still the case at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show this week, where vendors have new gateways from your network to the broadband connection. However, with draft 802.11n tech built in, most are designed with multimedia in mind.
The certification program gives vendors the right to use a logo signifying that the product works with Vista and provides a variety of services. In the case of wireless networking, among the requirements are support for dual-band, Wireless Multimedia (WMM), Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) and more. Microsoft has other standards for products like cameras, video cards, network storage, etc. Brian Verenkoff, product marketing manager at Buffalo, says the dual-band requirement “is to guarantee non-interference” with household products like phones and microwaves. The chip inside this AirStation is from Marvell.
The $299 router is pricey, but Verenkoff says that’s because it’s the “Cadillac of routers,” building in all the tech above and more, including Gigabit Ethernet ports on the switch, as well as Buffalo’s own AOSS push-button setup technology for security, coupled with the new Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which does the same. “We pulled out everything and put it into this product,” he says. “It delivers the best performance, range and features, and Microsoft endorses that.” The router has a companion $129 CardBus adapter for laptops, which also supports 2.4 and 5 GHz modes for Draft-N. Look for the Buffalo card and router in February.
D-Link is also entering the dual-band Draft-N world. The Dual Band Draft 802.11n Wireless Router (model DIR-855) targets users looking to run media centers and games as well as just computer data over the network. It has Gigabit Ethernet ports and supports security using WPS. No word on the price yet, but it should ship this quarter.
Actiontec is taking a different approach with the new Actiontec Wireless FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) Router. This isn’t about higher speed for video and data. Instead, it “facilitates call switching between the mobile and home Wi-Fi networks as users move in and out of the house,” according to a company statement. It still supports Draft-N and has the usual Ethernet ports (not Gigabit) for wired clients, but has the extra ability to route calls from your UMA-based VoIP handset to the mobile cellular carrier of your choice without dropping the call. This router can connect to other routers and turn itself into just a switch if necessary, or serve as a separate WLAN with a unique SSID to prevent it from interfering with the original router. It supports WPA2 (no WPS) and will retail for $180.
Linksys plans to help you play with the Wireless-N Gigabit Gaming Router (model WRT330N). This $200 hardware is available now and features Gigabit ports, building in all the quality of service (QoS) it needs to push around the video and audio for multiplayer gaming.
Since video is such a big deal this year in a way that it never could be before, take heed of some media-centric products for the WLAN as well: Buffalo’s LinkTheater Wireless-A&G Media Player (PC-P4LWAG), when coupled with the new dual-band router mentioned above, is supposed to offer truly interference-free multimedia playback. The interface is on the TV screen, run by a remote control. It supports Intel Viiv, Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), and even Dolby Digital sound playback of your digital files on the home theater. It will play files in MP3, WMA, AAC, LPCM, JPEG, BMP, PNG, MPEG 1/2/4, WMV 7/8/9 and Xvid formats. If you don’t use the network, you can play back data from the USB port by connecting flash memory drives. It wil cost $249.
Netgear is also showing a new media player at CES. Digital Entertainer HD (model EVA8000) streams data not just from your drives, but also from the Internet, such as YouTube videos. It even organizes the files for you. It connects to an HDTV using HDMI links for best 1080p resolution. Wireless connection is based on 802.11g; the Ethernet is only 100 Mbps.