When it comes to smooth video playback and VoIP (voice over IP) calls, speed alone isn't enough. Physical limiters such as walls or interference from electrical items – microwaves are notorious – are a problem.
Powerline networks, which run over the mains electrical circuits in your home or office, are a good option where Wi-Fi and ethernet aren't up to the job. Several Powerline technologies offer connections almost as fast as ethernet. We found that for streaming HD (high-definition) video, Homeplug AV was the least susceptible to interference from electrical devices.
Products such as Linksys's PowerLine AV Ethernet Kit move data over your home's electrical wiring, with adaptors plugging into a standard wall socket. Begin by connecting an adaptor to an available ethernet port on your router, then add other devices by running cables from their ethernet ports to other adaptors you've plugged in.
You won't have to worry about overloading your wireless network with HD video streams and performance will be far more reliable than on a wireless network, especially in a large home.
Draft-N on its way
If you prefer to stick with Wi-Fi for media streaming, you'll need hardware that offers draft-802.11n wireless support. As well as being fast, it incorporates a useful feature known as QoS (quality of service). This prioritises media streams, VoIP phone calls, online gameplay and other time-sensitive applications. Now that the 802.11n Wi-Fi specification has been agreed upon, version 2.0 of the draft standard has been issued – if you already have some draft-N kit, head to the maker's site and upgrade your firmware.
For online games fans, a specialised gaming router will give you a headstart against your opponents. This helps deliver maximum performance for internet and local multiplayer gameplay. It makes the most difference if several users access the network simultaneously.
Gaming routers have QoS prioritisation, are tuned to reduce latency and usually have faster processors, all of which increases the responsiveness of PCs on the network. For around £100 Linksys's Wireless-N Gigabit Gaming Router supports draft-802.11n Wi-Fi and gigabit ethernet.
For more information on network security, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.