CES 2012: New tools for a better home network
Connected devices were a top trend at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, as they have been for several years. But there's no point in having a television that displays Twitter feeds or a refrigerator that can send recipes to your oven if your home network is barely functional. Here are my favorite networking gadgets and technologies from this year's show, based on the dangerous assumption that they all will work as advertised when they actually hit the market later this year:
D-Link showed off several intriguing products, including a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that can share files on a thumb drive with the entire network and a sub-$50 router that's designed to bring home monitoring to the masses (by making it easy to access one's home network from anywhere via the Internet). But the one that I liked the most was the DHP-1565 router (shown at right), which offered a novel pairing of wireless and powerline networking. Other Wi-Fi routers have included powerline networking too, but this one monitors the signal quality on each side and automatically shifts data to the less noisy pathway. Nice.
It's due in stores in January at a suggested price of just under $160.
Netgear has been selling "network attached storage" devices -- hard drives that can be accessed from anywhere on your home network -- for years, but the category hasn't caught on with the masses. Still, I like the idea of consolidating all the pictures, videos and music scattered around the computers and smartphones in my home, and now Netgear has made the idea more appealing by integrating 2 Terabytes' worth of storage into a router, the WNDR4700. Not only can the router store and deliver all sorts of media to computers, smart TVs, tablets and other devices on a home network, the files on its hard drive can be read or played remotely through the Internet. It also acts as a backup device for the digital home.
Netgear said the router will arrive in the summer at an as-yet undisclosed price.
Qualcomm's Skifta is the software equivalent of a network attached storage device. Its software finds the music, video and image files that are stored on the devices connected to a home network, then enables you to play them on the connected device or devices of your choice. For example, you could use Skifta to create a slideshow on your TV of photos on your smartphone, or to have computers around your house play the same MP3 playlist. At CES, Skifta announced that it will offer manufacturers development kits for modules that can be used to turn products into Skifta-ready wirelessly connected devices. It also showed a reference design for an adapter that could connect existing stereos to the home network so they, too, could play the digital song files stored on other devices. That solves the biggest problem for the connected home: Many of the devices that people own weren't built for connectivity.
Skifta didn't announce a price for the module kits, which are expected to be available in the first half of the year.
-- Jon Healey
Credits, top to bottom: D-Link, Netgear and Qualcomm