ZyXel HomePlug AV PLA400

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If your digital entertainment collection is starting to reach out to other machines in the house and the wireless isn’t up to scratch, then Ethernet would usually be the next best solution. Or is it?

The thought of wiring up my home for Ethernet is one that pains me to even think about…so much that it would never leave the drawing board because the task is rather immense, even for a small house. The complexities involved in getting every room wired up is no small task, but in the past it has been the only way to get a reliable and speedy connection to each room you wanted to connect from. Wireless is a great alternative for low bandwidth applications such as internet access, but as soon as you want to start doing multiple audio and video streams on top of the internet traffic, then things can become rather slow.

So what’s the alternative? A technology that has been in existence for several years now is the clever use of wiring that is already in most if not all rooms in every household. Your electrical wiring. Some clever people somewhere figured out that you can send data over power lines without any modification to your existing circuitry. During the infancy of the technology, speeds were limited with the maximum bandwidth capped at 10Mbps with real-world speeds barely reaching that. Today, the technology has been perfected to the extent that it’s now possible to reach speeds of up to 200Mbps – more than enough for HD content streaming and high-speed data transfer.

The ZyXEL HomePlug AV PLA400 system allows you to do just that, and it’s so incredibly easy to get setup that it makes wireless look difficult. If you get the twin pack, you get two HomePlug adapters that connect directly to your mains supply using a standard 3-pin UK power plug. Within seconds of being powered up, the adapter is now ready for transmission. At the back of the adapter is an Ethernet jack for connecting to your computer or any other Ethernet-compatible device such as a games console. If you then attach the second box to the mains somewhere else in the house, say next to the internet router for example, then the two boxes will automatically locate each other, connect and set themselves up for data transmission. That is all you have to do in order to get the two boxes to connect to each other.

You might wonder about security, and whether a next door neighbour that just happens to buy the same box will be able to pick up your signal. The answer is very unlikely since your mains supply ends at your electric meter and is encrypted with 128-bit AES protection.

ZyXEL has included this PowerLine technology in their wireless router, the P660HWP. Using the single power plug, it powers the router as well as provides the transmission link for the adapters around your house to pick up from.

I tested the PLA400 in various rooms throughout the house to see how distance affected the performance and reliability. This included moving to the next room and upstairs. Both tests resulted in establishing the same connection speed as being in the same room. I was only able to achieve half the transmission rate that ZyXEL claims this technology can achieve (200Mbs), but even at 120Mbps, this still achieves a better transmission rate compared to a wireless connection. Another benefit of the PowerLine technology is that the speed of each adapter is connected directly to the router, so you get a dedicated connection rather than a shared transmission rate with the router. Think of it as a Ethernet jack plugged straight in to the router for each adapter you have around the house.

If you’re worried that your family members are going to start sucking up all the bandwidth after you start sharing your videos and music collection on your media server, then you’ll be glad to find that the PLA400 has Quality of Service built-in so you can prioritise time sensitive traffic based on your requirements. This means you can make sure that your VOIP calls or video conferencing sessions aren’t interrupted when a couple of HD streams are started up elsewhere in the house.

Forget about wiring your house up with Ethernet, with the PLA400 you don’t need to. The ZyXEL PLA400 is the missing link to creating a networked home for consuming media in any room in the house. If you need something faster than 100Mbps, then the ZyXEL setup won’t be for you, however I would struggle to give a scenario where your average household would need anything more than what the ZyXEL offers for today and tomorrow’s digital content. Combine the PLA400 with ZyXEL’s PowerLine router (P660HWP) and you’re laughing.

2008-09-29 Onwah Tsang

1 comment - why not add yours

  • jackoran says:

    I was looking for a replacement for the box that my provider gave me for free, but it doesn’t give me anywhere near the speed of having a cabled connection. Now that you’ve spent some time with this product, have you experienced any problems with it?

    Posted on 9th October 2008

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