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Tag: Network

TP-Link AV600 Powerline Review

Posted by Andrew at 1:02 AM on May 14, 2014

TP-LInk LogoTP-Link have been releasing steadily HomePlug Powerline products based on the AV600 standard which offers increased capacity for multiple HD streams. TP-Link have kindly sent through some of their new AV600 Powerline gear for a bit of hands-on testing. Regular readers will recall that I’d previously looked at the WiFi Powerline Extender back in December so it will be interesting to compare the faster gear. Let’s take a look.

TP-Link AV600 Box

First, for those who aren’t familiar with HomePlug Powerline, it’s a technology that uses the mains electricity circuits to transmit network signals and as most homes have power sockets in every room, it’s ideal for spreading the network round the house. This AV600 Gigabit Powerline Adaptor Starter Kit (TL-PA6010KIT) has two adaptors, one of which usually connects up to the broadband router or data switch and the other goes into the otherwise network-free room. The box also has two ethernet cables, software CD and a Getting Started guide.

Powerline AV600 Units

As you’ll see from the plugs, these are UK spec units but variants for other countries will be available. The cases are plastic but the seem well-built enough and should resist the normal bumps and knocks that can be encountered round the home. A couple of LEDs indicate the status of the network and transfer activity.

As the adaptors come pre-paired, no configuration is required and getting started is simply a case of plugging them in and attaching network cables. If the adaptors are to be introduced into an existing HomePlug network, there is a small pairing button on the bottom of each unit. Alternatively, a bundled software application can be used to manage the network and add additional adaptors.

These newer 300 and 600 Mbps adaptors use techniques borrowed from wi-fi standards to increase the throughput and to cope with noise and errors but the real-world data transfer rate will never be anywhere close to the rated speed. The overhead of encryption takes its toll on the transfer rate too, but as with wireless it’s very much a necessity to keep data away from prying eyes.

The adaptors in this starter kit come with a single gigabit ethernet port which can either connect to one device or connect into a switch or hub to share the connection. Alternatively, TP-Link have a newer 3 port AV600 version (TL-PA6030) which will keep the back of the entertainment unit a little bit tidier where there’s a smart TV, a game console and a media streamer.

Performance-wise, I did some testing using Totusoft‘s Lan Speed Test. Bear in mind that no two homes will be configured the same, so while the Mbit/s figures are of interest, it’s the relative performance that matters. With that in mind, I tested the data transfer speeds between a Buffalo NAS and a Toshiba laptop using 10 GB files.

  • Wired connection via TP-Link AV600 Powerline – 91 Mb/s
  • Wired connection via TP-Link AV500 Powerline – 72 Mb/s
  • Wired connection via ethernet – 298 Mb/s

These figures tell us two things. First, there’s a measurable performance boost between the older AV500 and the newer AV600 of around 25%. Second, there’s capacity for multiple HD data streams. A 1080p mp4 video stream needs somewhere around 22 Mb/s so at a true 91 Mb/s transfer rate, there’s plenty of capacity for several HD streams. For comparison, a Blu-ray video can output up to 48 Mb/s.

(Again for those people who get all concerned as to why I didn’t get speed “X” Mb/s, it’s the wiring in the building, combined with the features or restrictions of my laptop, data switch and NAS.)

The network management software on the enclosed CD didn’t like my Windows 8.1 and refused to install but an updated version was available from TP-Link’s website. The software lets you monitor the actual speed of the network, add additional adaptors, carry out firmware upgrades and set basic QoS. Some of it was beyond me too!

Local adaptor

TP-Link QoS

The software is nowhere near as good as Devolo’s Cockpit but it does the job most of the time. On a few occasions I found that the app wouldn’t start properly, putting an icon into the System Tray but failing to display a window: usually a reboot resolved the problem. Many people will never need the software as they’ll only plug the Powerline adaptors in and leave them alone. However, for those who want to tinker or setup a larger network, it’s there…if you can get it to work.

Out of interest, I tried moving the receiving end around my house and there were variations in the data transfer rate – broadly, the further apart the adaptors were, the slower the rate. However the drop-off was far less than would be expected on wi-fi with very acceptable data rates throughout the building. If you are tempted to upgrade your HomePlug Powerline network, don’t forget that all the adaptors need to be of the same class (AV600) to boost the network speed.

In summary, the TP-Link AV600 Gigabit Powerline Adaptor Starter Kit improves on the previous product generations and provides fast networking via power outlets. The supporting software needs improvement but with on-line prices a little under £60, the kit is still good value.

Thanks to TP-Link for supplying the review units.

Boosty Your Broadband at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2014

Boosty BoxWhile many of us are fortunate enough to be served by fibre connections to our homes, many of us are still stuck on copper ADSL circuits with single digit download speeds. This isn’t great, especially with the rise of on-line gaming, movies-on-demand and second screening. Most of us have a another high speed data connection in our smartphone and this is where Boosty comes in, seamlessly adding a 3G / 4G mobile data connection to your home network.

I talk to Paul about how easy it is to add the box to your network and the accompanying service which lets you control who uses the mobile data and how much data is used. The Boosty box can use a WiFi connected smartphone or a 3G/4G USB dongle.

Boosty will be available in the next few weeks for £69.99 which includes the cost of the Boosty box plus a year’s subscription to the service. Pre-order at the Boosty site now.

D-Link NVR and Low-Light Webcam

Posted by Andrew at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2014

D-Link LogoAt CES’ Digital Experience, Ken from D-Link tells Todd about their new network video recorder (NVR) and low-light webcam.

The NVR can record up to 9 IP cameras at once, storing the images on the SATA drive. The feeds can be viewed either via an attached HDMI monitor or else viewed remotely via D-Link’s mydlink solution which securely connects from the Internet back to devices in the home, using a web browser or a smartphone app.

The low-light web camera works down to 0.01 lux light levels and can still pick out colours. In complete darkness, a white LED provides illumination for up to 50 feet. As you’d expect, it’s 802.11ac wireless.

Both the NVR and the webcam will have an MSRP of US$379 when they go on sale in April ’14.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Lantronix Prints From Android and Chrome at CES

Posted by Andrew at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2014

Lantronix LogoThere are times when only hard copy will do but anyone who has tried to print from a tablet will know that it’s not always easy. The main ecosystems from Apple and Google have their own printer strategies with AirPrint and Cloud Print respectively but support is spotty at best. Several printer manufacturers have gone so far as to create their own printer app which really is a pretty poor state of affairs.

Into this gap steps Lantronix with their xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition, the first Google-certified Cloud Print server which lets Android and ChromeOS devices print wirelessly to network and USB printers. Sweet.

xPrintServer

The unit is about the size of a smartphone and requires no additional software downloads or printer drivers. It’s simply a case of connecting the device to the network and it automatically finds the printers on the network, making them available to users. The xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition supports any device running Google’s Chrome browser, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop. Apparently there are over 310 million active users of Chrome, so that’s quite a few people who might want to print. Business users of Google Apps are supported too. Details of the printers supported are available from Lantronix’s website.

This new xPrintServer joins the existing Home and Office Editions which provide print services for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

The Cloud Print Edition sells for an MSRP of US$149.95 and will ship at the end of February 2014. Pre-orders are being taken now and potential customers can sign up at lantronix.com for more information and availability. Of course, if you are at CES, you can pop round to their stand for a quick demo.

Philips Hue and IFTTT

Posted by Andrew at 3:48 AM on January 2, 2014

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address - geeknews at gmail.com - and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Posted by Andrew at 7:00 AM on December 29, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.

Philips Hue Android Apps

Posted by Andrew at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingLast week, I had a first look at the Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit from Philips. As I mentioned in the review, Philips has opened up the lighting system to developers via an API and this week, I’ll take a look at some of the apps available, both from 3rd party developers. As you’d expect, they run the gamut from “could do with more work” all the way through to “brilliant” but broadly fall into two categories, firstly those that are primarily concerned with setting the colour of the lights, and secondly those that do more interesting things. This review covers the apps that are currently available from Google Play and there are many similar apps available for iOS.

Hue Limited Edition, Colorful, Light Control, Speedy Hue and LampShade are all variants on the “set the colour of the lights”. All offer grouping of lamps into sets and the saving of colour combinations into favourites or presets. Here are a few screenshots, showing the main screens from each. As you’ll see, they pretty much do the same thing in different ways.

Hue Limited Edition

Hue Limited Edition

Colorful

Colorful

Speedy Hue

Speedy Hue

LampShade

LampShade

Light Control

Light Control

All worked as advertised, but I found that in this instance, less was often more. If I wanted to run an app with favourites or presets, I tended to use the Philips Hue app to set all the lights at once. However to quickly set the colour of a single light, I used Hue Limited Edition, rather than anything else. Light Control came a close second and Speedy Hue gets an honourable mention for the inclusion of a scheduler which will turn the lights on and off at specified times.

Speaking of alarms, Hue Alarm Clock takes waking up to the next level. Instead of an incessant beeping, Alarm Clock gently fades in a colour of your choice to wake you from your slumber. The screenshot is from the limited free version, not the paid version which has more options.

Hue Alarm Clock

There are two apps which purport to support voice recognition, and like “Star Trek”, you too can walk into a room and say, “Lights!” and the illumination comes up. Hue Talk takes an almost canned approach to the voice recognition with the user able to predefine the voice commands for  around 20 features, from turning all the lights on, turning the lights up and down, and changing the colour. The suggested voice commands are memorable phrases, such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Purple Rain” turning the lights the respective colours. You can change the commands to whatever you prefer so there’s no real intelligence here but it works well.

Hue Talk

On the other hand, SpeechHue, looks like it supports natural language but I could never get the app to work in the way that I imagined it should work. Some of the comments in the Google Play store say that it’s good once you work it out. Sorry, if I need to work out how the app works, it’s failed. Zero stars.

SpeechHue

LampShade and Colorful (after paid upgrades) work with NFC to set the lights. In theory, each room could have an NFC tag (or tags) such that when the tag is swiped by the smartphone, the app sets the lights just for that room or mood. It’s a neat idea but I wasn’t able to test the NFC features as I don’t have any NFC tags. I’ve ordered so I may report back later.

I’ve been saving the best until last and we come to apps from IJS Design who make the best Hue apps on Android bar none. Currently, there are four IJS apps, of which three – Christmas, Halloween and Fireworks – link holidays into Hue. So for the Christmas app, which includes New Year too, you get sound effects linked into Hue colour changes and effects. Think of it as a soundboard with lights. The apps also have moods which are longer music pieces with light effects and are more atmospheric, which are especially good when the sound is passed through a hifi.

Hue Christmas

Huey New Year

And finally, IJS Design’s Hue Disco is the single best Hue app on the market (IMHO). Simply, you play music on your hifi, place your smartphone or tablet nearby and Hue Disco changes the colour of the Hue lights in time to the track. There’s loads of adjustment possible, including microphone sensitivity, transition speed, brightness, colour temperature and strobe effects. For something more subtle, there’s Mood Control which cycles the lights on themed colours, such as sunrise or Christmas. All-in-all, totally brilliant and money well spent.

Hue Disco

A screenshot can’t show what it’s like in action, so here’s a video showing Hue Disco in action. You really can have a disco in your front room and it’s fantastic when paired with a music service like Spotify. I’ve been playing Christmas tracks non-stop.

That summarises the state of the Android Hue app space which appears to be growing healthily and similar apps are available for Apple devices. For me, the keeper apps are Hue Limited Edition and Hue Disco with Hue Talk close behind needing a bit of polishing. Have fun.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

The Internet is a Utility

Posted by Andrew at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2012

Router and CablesLast week, I moved to a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Nothing particularly unusual about that except that I had been with my old ISP, Demon, for nearly twenty years. That’s almost the whole of the my adult life and I’m sure it’s the longest customer relationship I’ve had. To be quite clear, I didn’t leave Demon as a dissatisfied customer and on the contrary, I would recommend them to anyone. So why did I leave?

To answer that, we’ll have to take a little trip down memory lane. Back in the early 90s, the 486DX2 was the CPU of choice, 8 MB was a lot of RAM, 120 MB hard drives were huge and dial-up modems were specialist items. JANET, the UK’s university network was the closest thing to the Internet, and it was email, ftp, telnet, Usenet and gopher. I imagine that some readers will be thinking, “gopher?” Never heard of that.

In 1992 and in an early example of crowdsourcing, Demon ISP was setup by persuading 200 people to pay in advance for a year’s dial-up access. I wasn’t part of that group but after publicity in the leading UK computer magazine at the time, Personal Computer World, I signed up for their £10 a month dial-up service. You had to buy your own modem in those days – no freebie wireless router – but it came with unlimited email addresses, 10 MB of ftp space and Usenet newsgroups.

Demon provided their own email package called Turnpike as this was all pre-Outlook, and a certain level of skill was needed just to get on-line. The connection software was a command line program called KA9Q that was originally amateur radio software. Winsock fortunately arrived shortly afterwards, which made life considerably easier with Windows 3.

One of the great things about Demon in the early days was that the support staff were technical folk too and quickly got the measure of the caller. If you said to them that you were having problems with DNS resolving, they’d understand that you had a reasonable grasp of the problem and work with you, rather than blindly follow the procedure written in the training manual.

Since then there have been many changes in the world of technology, not least the arrival of ADSL broadband, which single-handedly changed the web from geek toy to consumer product. In the end, two things conspired against Demon. The first was free web email such Gmail and Hotmail which meant that I no longer needed my ISP to provide me with an email address. The second was video-on-demand which had the twin impacts of volume and speed. My new ISP, Sky, offers twice the speed of Demon and no data caps for less money. Bit of a no brainer, as they say.

Demon provided a great technical service for geeks 20 years ago, but as the web has become a consumer product, the need for technical features such as ftp space has faded. All that is needed is the connection. The Internet has become a utility like water, gas and electricity, always there and always ready. No understanding of the technology is needed to use it, just as turning on a light doesn’t need knowledge of volts and amps.

I’ve no doubt that Demon has a successful future working with business but I think that the future of the independent ISP in the consumer space is bleak. People will choose consumer brands linked to utilities or telcos – Sky, BT, Virgin, Orange - and get one bill for multiple services at a reduced price…as I did.

Routers and Cables 2” image courtesy of BigStock.

Diamond Wireless Range Extender and Set-Top Box Preview

Posted by Andrew at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2012

Diamond Wireless Range Extender WR300NI remember building a PC many years ago and at that time, Diamond Multimedia was one of *the* graphics card companies. I even seem to remember that it was VL-bus card, so that dates it to a pre-Pentium era. Anyway, it’s great to see that Diamond is still around when so many others have fallen by the wayside. Todd interviews Louis Kokenis from Diamond Multimedia on the latest products.

The Diamond Wireless Range Extender has three functions in one. First, it’s a wireless repeater that eliminates deadspots in wireless coverage. Second, it’s a wireless bridge that will connect a wired network device to the wireless network and third, it’s a standalone wireless access point, creating wireless hotspot from a single network point. With regard to the last mode, the WR300N’s small size means that it’s great for travelling and creating a wireless network in a hotel room. On-sale now for around $60.

Diamond will be introducing an Android-based TV set-top box that combines web browser, media player, ebook reader, game console, anything that can be downloaded from the Android Market. It won’t be tied to any particular media provider as it will either be able to download an app, e.g. Netflix, or else it will be able to browse to any website and play media directly. Sounds cool, especially if it runs ICS.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Steve Lee of NetCast Studio for the TechPodcast Network.

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