I've long had a slightly cranky regard for the benefits of homeplug. For the uninitiated, that's bouncing a data signal along electric wires, creating a network by the simple method of slapping in a plug next to your router, and another near your PC.
Why is it so good? It's a simple solution to a tricky problem. It just works, and the concept is startingly simple. (And when I spent a Saturday afternoon trying and failing to 'go wireless', homeplug saved the day.) See also: Powerline: last refuge of the inept networker.
But ISPs are now much better at bundling easy-to-use and set up wireless routers, and Wi-Fi is almost ubiquitous. Unless you have a particularly wireless-unfriendly five-story house, the need for homeplugs (which are about £50 each) is diminished.
But a healthy number of exhibitors here at CeBIT have found new uses for the homeplug concept, and they're coming up with some pretty cool applications.
Take Devolo, the German company that has a massive market share and does almost nothing but homeplug technology. Today Devolo showed us a couple of upcoming products that should make streaming media around your home a simple, and relatively low cost, affair.
Devolo audio kit
The dLAN Audio base and dLAN Audio tone combine to create a multiroom speaker set up. In essence, they're iPod dock and speaker separates. The clever thing is that they talk to each other via homeplug. So you plug in the dock in one room, and then plug in speakers all over the rest of the house. They sync, and you can listen to music in every room, even controlling the iPod remotely whenever you're in range of a speaker.
It's ultra simple to set up, flexible and scalable. And although Devolo couldn't yet give us pricing, staff there told PC Advisor that the products would be significantly cheaper than buying, say, Sonos separates. And a lot less techie to use. The Devolo homeplug audio products will be available in the UK in the autumn.
Slightly later in the year Devolo is launching another media streaming solution: HD TV. You get a receiver and as many set top boxes as you require, and then connect them all up via plug sockets. No more faffing around inputting IP addresses and network keys, and if you want to move from room to room (or TV to TV), you simply shift the plug.
Homeplug for wireless internet always felt like a bit of a tweener technology: it was a solution to a problem, but it could never be as satisfactory as true wireless. But the application of homeplug as a media-sharing technology looks to have legs.
The barrier to high-def media sharing and streaming is, for many people, cost and the perception that it's hard to do. It's no accident that Sky HD's tagline is 'now it's for everyone'. Perhaps homeplug will help to change that.
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