Optimise your home network for media streaming
Many of us are guilty of clogging up our PCs with digital media. A better solution is an external storage drive, which offers a secure location for your media and, if attached to your home network, lets you stream content between devices.
Set up a powerline network
Streaming media across your home network will eat up huge chunks of your bandwidth and slow down other activities. For most setups, a better, more dependable option is a wired HomePlug or powerline network. This uses your home's electrical sockets to pass an internet connection from room to room. You can then leave your Wi-Fi network free for other activities.
If you can plug in a power cord and an ethernet cable, you can set up a powerline network. When choosing hardware, be aware that devices vary in data transfer speeds - 85MB per second (MBps) or 200MBps versions are available - so be sure to compare like for like. You'll need to plug your adaptor directly into a wall socket. Don't use filtered power strips or surge protectors because they can interfere with the network connection.
Next, run an ethernet cable from the HomePlug to a free LAN port on your Wi-Fi router. Plug a second HomePlug adaptor into a wall socket in any room where you want access to this wired network. After a few seconds, the devices will recognise each other and connect.
You can now connect any device that has an ethernet port to your network. In the living room, for example, you can hook up your games console, digital video recorder, Blu-ray player, Windows Media Extender, media streaming box and laptop. The beauty of such a setup is that you can also connect it to a Wi-Fi access point to bring coverage to what was previously a dead spot.
As with a Wi-Fi network, you may need to change the default settings to prevent neighbours operating on the same electrical circuit and hopping on to your network. You can change the default encryption password on all the kits simply by pressing buttons on each adaptor.
Another benefit of this setup is its flexibility. You can move the adaptors from one electrical socket to another without them losing their settings. And power outages shouldn't wreak long-term havoc either - as soon as the power's back on, your HomePlug devices should reappear on the network.
The down side of this is that you may encounter poor performance due to bad circuitry. In my 100-year-old house, older electrical outlets had severe interference problems, but on my newer circuits the adaptors worked perfectly. If you're unsure of your circuitry, buy from a vendor that has a good returns policy.