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The June 6, 2007 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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High-Definition Media Networking--Our Game Plan

We've been writing about home networking since the start of this report more than seven years ago, and have used our home and our Florida condo as "test beds" for current technologies.

The latest generation of home networking claims to be over the bar we described many years ago--they appear to have the physical speed and QoS required to handle one or more channels of high-definition television across the whole home. We have followed these technologies--802.11n, the latest generation of Wi-Fi; various forms of high-speed networking over power lines, phone lines and coaxial cable; and ultra wideband (UWB)--since their infancy. See our topical guide to Home Networking for links to our many articles on these technologies.

Now that these second-generation technologies are finally starting to reach the market, we're going to subject them to the same kind of testing that we did nearly five years ago on the first generation. One part of our testing will be quantitative -- measuring throughput speeds throughout our home at the same test locations we chose and documented for the first-generation technologies. We expect to see a substantial improvement in data throughput, perhaps approaching the 100 Mbps we've had for many years with Ethernet over the Category 5 cabling we installed throughout our home in 1996.

But data testing is not enough. These technologies all claim to be suitable for video as well as data--specifically for high-definition video. HD is the most challenging of all networking applications, since streaming video cannot tolerate "glitches" the way data can, and HD requires both very high data rates and consistency. So we're planning to augment our quantitative throughput testing with qualitative observations of networked high-definition video.

We've already installed a high-performance server to use as a data and video server, and are planning to upgrade some of our ancient Cat 5 cabling to Cat 5e so it can handle Gigabit Ethernet. We plan to store HD video content on the server, and stream it to several HD players -- first over GigE, and then over each of the various networking technologies. We plan to watch the video and look for glitches. We'll test "trick play" to see how well the network technologies handle fast forward and fast reverse. Finally, we plan to run several HD streams simultaneously, and set up a couple of PCs transferring files back and forth as fast as they can, to test network resilience and QoS.

Our previous testing took much longer than we anticipated, and we won't be surprised if this happens again as we learn about how to use all of these new technologies. We'll keep you posted as we get some results.

While we're getting under way, we'd appreciate some help from our readers. We'd like to include several different networked HD video players in our testing, including ones designed as DLNA clients and others for remotely playing HD DVD and/or BluRay disks. Ideally each player would have HDMI or component video outputs, or a built-in screen. We would appreciate your suggestions--and if possible loans of several types of players.

Please write us with your suggestions to make these tests as meaningful and useful as possible.