In my house, I currently don't have an easy way to run CAT-5 cable to areas where I want a solid Internet connection. I'm running an 802.11n router currently to try and get the most bandwidth there is to allow streaming of content in both standard definition and high definition to other devices in the house. My issue though is that while the connection is mostly solid, there are times that it does drop or the speed decreases causing stuttering when streaming some content. There is one solution that a few companies have released to try and provide network connections in hard to wire places and that is to use the existing electrical wiring in the house. D-Link has a product that's made for HD streaming and today we look at the DHP-303 Powerline HD Network Kit.
The DHP-303 Powerline HD Network Starter Kit consists of two units that plug straight into the outlet. These white square blocks hold an Ethernet connection and some LEDs. On the front you can see a power LED to let you know the unit is receiving power, an Ethernet LED indicating there's a connection with a blinking status showing there is data being transmitted, an LED to let you know if it's the master unit of the house, and a throughput LED. The throughput LED is a nice visual indicator to let you know if things aren't running as fast. Red means that the speed is less than 6Mbps. When it turns amber, the speed is between 20Mbps and 6Mbps while a green LED means it's running at least 20Mbps. A few outlets in my house gave me the dreaded amber and red LED so I knew those weren't good outlets to use.
Setting the DHP-303 up was pretty simple. I plugged one unit into the wall and connected my router to it. This was then designated as the master unit automatically. The other unit was then plugged into another outlet and connected to my laptop which quickly confirmed a network connection. Now you probably don't have to worry about securing your network if you are in your own house but for those who share their living quarters with others in places such as apartment complexes, you can easily pair up your units and secure them in a few simple steps. The large round button on the front helps with this procedure and you'll be able to secure the units in your setup in no time.
There's one Ethernet connection on the bottom of the unit and that's a slight disappointment. I'd love to have a few more in that area so if you want to share the line with other electronic items, you're going to have to plug it into a switch or hub. Similar devices from other companies do have multiple outlets per unit so there are examples out there of these in existence. But, it's not that much of a deal breaker and having one is better than having none.
The DHP-303 is marked to run at 200Mbps but we all know that that's not going to be the case. The same reason that wireless networks don't ever reach their rated speeds, powerline network devices never do as well. In any case, I was hoping for enough speed to be able to stream some HD content and play games. Games tend to use less bandwidth anyways so if I could get a steady connection from the DHP-303 for streaming HD video then I would be golden.
One great feature of the DHP-303 is that it will power down when the devices are in idle. This should help save a little bit of power when things get slow as far as traffic goes. The two units were warm to the touch when used for the two weeks I was testing it but it never got too hot. I've read of older models getting burned out from extreme heat but the two units I have in use seem to be running well in the heat department.
To test, I positioned the master unit in the center of the ground floor of my two story house. I plugged it directly in with my Linksys Gigabit router and into an outlet that was also powering a 48" LCD TV, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, router, and a DVR. I wanted to see if there were any significant changes if I ran the DHP-303 with the items on or off as well as how well it worked on the whole.
For my test, I utilized my laptop which has a network meter that gives me both the speed at which uploads and downloads are happening as well as a graph that shows in a length of time what speed it currently was. I decided to copy a 500MB file back and forth measuring the time as well as seeing how well the connection held up. I also had a test of a daughter unit where it was plugged into the same outlet as a 46" LCD projection TV and a Windows 7 Media Center PC. I'll go into how each fared in a little bit.
My first test had the child unit being plugged in on the same floor but on a different circuit. Once I plugged the DHP-303 unit into the outlet, it only took a few seconds for it to find the master unit and establish a new work connection. Let's start with my wireless-N connection and use that as the baseline.
When copying the 500MB file to one of my servers using wireless-N, my connection did some fluctuations of 30Mbps to 38Mbps. I did notice my connection dropping down to the lower teens as well making for an inconsistent connection. After three trials, the average time it took to copy the file was 1.35 minutes with my network graph have various lows throughout the copy procedure.
I then turned off my wireless and plugged the CAT5 cable from the DHP-303 into my laptop. Initiating the copy procedure, I stayed at a steady rate of 35Mbps with slight fluctuations of 2MBps on either side. Copying took around the same time at 1.39 minutes average but my graph was a pretty steady horizontal line throughout the process, unlike using wireless. Just from this first test, I surmised that for streaming content, it would offer a solid connection thus minimizing or eliminating any buffering or slowdown issues provided the content didn't exceed the bandwidth available.
Streaming HD content from my Windows 7 Media Center PC to my Xbox 360 via extender, I watched an HD broadcast from one of the clear QAM channels being captured by a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250. I checked the amount of data being sent from the PC and it was about 20Mbps which was easily within the range I was getting using the DHP-303. It was close to maxing out the connection though so having anything else use that line was probably going to be a no go. On my Xbox 360, I enjoyed smooth HD playback from a local station and was very happy with the results. Using a wireless solution before, I would run into some stutters here and there. The DHP-303 eliminated this issue with a more consistent connection.
Now, my one setup with the 48" LCD TV and 360 had no effect whatsoever with the performance. With the master unit plugged in and my laptop plugged into it, the transfer time and speed were pretty much the same whether anything was on or off. The same couldn't be said though for my 46" LCD projection and Windows 7 Media Center PC using a slave unit. I would see frequent drops to below 3Mbps and the speed LED on the front would constantly flash red. I moved the power strip to another outlet on the other side of the room while keeping the slave unit plugged in and it seemed to solve the speed issue. And no, I did not have the slave unit plugged into the power strip, which I highly do not recommend doing.
Also, different outlets can sometimes produce different results as well. With the master unit plugged into the interior most outlet in my house, I tried a few areas around to see how the speeds were. Most gave me the same 30-35Mbps speed but a few of the outlets in the outer part of my house went to below 20Mbps and some went below 6Mbps as well. So, it might take you some trial and error to find an outlet that works for you and all of this is going to be dependent as well on how well the wiring in your house is. My house was built in the mid-70s for your reference so it's not a new house at all.
While it's nowhere near the advertised speeds, the DHP-303 solidified the connection of my upstairs Media Center to the rest of my network. It's eliminated the drop outs and streaming issues I had when using my wireless N card. In my testing, streaming HD content took up most of the bandwidth with little to spare. Setup was very painless and easy to do but it took a few tries to find a good outlet to use. I would've liked to have seen about another 30-50% more in speed but for some you might just take the steady stream over a wireless connection that can be a little flaky. So far though, I've been pretty happy with how it's held up and would recommend this set to those looking to get a network connection in areas that may be hard to.