Here we continue our Top 10 uses for Wi-Fi:
7. Listen to music
A Wi-Fi network allows you to listen to music in any room of the house, and there are several ways to enjoy this freedom. Literally thousands of radio stations have an internet stream and, although you can listen to these via any PC, there’s an alternative that will likely give you better audio quality and added convenience: an internet radio.
These start at around £60 and rise to several hundred pounds. Commonly, internet radios also support FM and DAB. Just bear in mind that listening to radio via the internet will count toward your data cap.
Another popular option is to stream MP3 audio files via your wireless network. This requires you to have a media server on your network. There are a number of approaches here.
First, if you don’t mind keeping it switched on, you can configure as a media PC any PC on the network. See How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC for instructions on how to do so.
Alternatively, NAS devices can often be configured to act as media servers as well as file servers. Typically, they can act as both a DLNA/UPnP server and an iTunes server.
A third option is the dedicated media server. If your NAS or dedicated media server doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi, just plug it into an ethernet port on your wireless router.
Just as there are several ways of streaming your audio around the house, there are lots of ways you can access that data. The most obvious method is from any computer connected to the network, although this probably won’t provide you with the audio quality you hoped for. A much better solution is to use a Wi-Fi-connected hi-fi system, such as multiroom systems from Sonos or Pure.
Alternatively, you could opt for a standalone music streamer, such as an internet radio (virtually all models will also play music from your local network) or connect a dedicated network player such as a Naim NDS to a hi-fi system.
8. Stream video
Just as you can stream audio across a Wi-Fi network, you can also stream video. This is an increasingly popular way of accessing your movie collection – you can have your entire collection on tap, without ever having to get up and put a disc into the DVD player.
While we wouldn’t suggest that you throw away your DVD and Blu-ray discs (after all, they form a convenient backup), it’s far easier to find what you’re looking for on a media server than by rummaging through shelves full of discs in boxes.
The cheapest way to stream video is to set up one of your PCs as a media server. Alternatively, as we’ve said before, if you want to avoid having to keep your PC switched on all the time you could invest in a NAS device, making sure you choose one that can work as a media server.
You could use another PC or laptop to view video stored on a PC or NAS media server, but you’ll probably prefer to watch it on a large-screen TV. It’s usually possible to connect your laptop or PC to your TV with an HDMI cable, but you can also wirelessly stream video if your laptop has built-in Wi-Di (you’ll still need a receiver to connect to the TV, such as the Netgear Push2TV HD), or use a kit that includes both the video sender and receiver, such as HP’s Wireless TV Connect.
However, rather than using a laptop or PC, you’re usually better off buying a dedicated media streamer, such as the D-Link Boxee Box, Roku 2XS or Western Digital WD TV Live. If you have a Mac rather than a PC, or simply a burgeoning iTunes video library, an Apple TV is likely to be the best choice.
Don’t forget your TV itself may have the capability to play video files across a Wi-Fi network. Most ‘smart’ TVs have a built-in media player that can play files from a local USB stick, but also across your home network from a DLNA or UPnP media server. Many TVs have optional Wi-Fi dongles, but can usually be connected to your wireless router via a standard network patch cable.
Finally, you can use your Wi-Fi network to stream those videos to your tablet or smartphone. Whether you have an iPad, iPhone, Android device or something else, there are many apps that can seek out media servers on your wireless network and play videos of many formats.
9. Play online games
Playing games on your PC doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. Virtually all games can also be played with (or against) other players online. What’s more, if your laptop, PC or tablet is connected to the internet via your Wi-Fi network, you’ll be able to enjoy online gaming from these devices, too. However, online gaming doesn’t start and end there.
The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, for example, allows users of the Nintendo DS and the Wii to participate in online multiuser games via their home Wi-Fi network. Similarly, the latest Xbox 360 has Wi-Fi built-in; if you have an older model you can add Wi-Fi with a USB adaptor. This permits online gaming via Xbox Live (note that you’ll need to pay for the Gold service, which costs between £30 and £40 per year depending on where you subscribe). In the same way, the PS3 uses Wi-Fi to provide a gateway to the PlayStation Network.
Next page: Monitor your home using Wi-Fi IP cameras