Friday, October 09, 2009

Coming up for air update: Wireless Project initiative

So what the heck have I been up to all this time?! Well...while working like a dog, buying new computer and networking equipment, fitting in a vacation to see the bro who's a bro, while also drinking a lot of his awesome wine, somewhere in there, I decided to get off my butt and start a "local wireless initiative". Otherwise known as, er, getting rid of of many computer or networking wires as possible.

I started with my usb attached printer. Since I have a laptop that I normally don't keep anywhere near my desk (where the all-in-one copier/scanner/printer is), if I ever wanted to print something, I had to walk my laptop (remembering to unplug everything) over to the desk to plug into the usb hub. Ugh. So...I plugged a donated usb bluetooth adapter into my printer, and I can now stream print jobs from my couch 10 feet away (yeah, yeah, small condo). Totally free!

The next project was to get rid of the wired keyboard and mouse. I've shunned bluetooth solutions in the past because the laggy and unresponsive feel of the input was just something I couldn't live with, especially if I was going to be doing some serious gaming with these periphals. This year seems to be the renaissance of rf devices in the 2.4 Ghz range. And when this keyboard/mouse combination became available, I knew I couldn't put it off any longer. No lag, awesome keyboard, and mouse with some serious juice, including a couple of programmable buttons, and a scroll wheel that scrolls vertical AND horizontal. Wut?! Yeah. Really. All wireless, and not bluetooth. $70.

The last wire I had to get rid of was my USB external hard drive. I love it, it's light weight and portable, but...there's this USB cable that I always have to have plugged into the laptop if I wanted to access the files on it. So...I have this Wi-Fi draft n gaming router that I actually get 300 mbps out of, and it has a USB port on it. There is a firmware update for it that allows USB hard drives to be accessible from the WAN connection...duh! Update the firmware, install the network sharing utility (a modified hot-sync'ing utility, from what I can tell), and bam...wireless USB. Since USB 2.0 can transmit at a theoretical limit of 240 mbps, and 802.11n is as fast as 300 mbps, that means that I didn't lose any speed at all when I went with this solution. I can play HD content, wirelessly, from this hard drive, and there is no lag, or dropped frames, at all. To put it a different way. I can play all my video files from this hard drive at the same speed that I already enjoyed from a wired connection. Bliss! And free! (Well, the router cost a bit, but I didn't buy it for this project.) UPDATE: USB 2.0 is supposed to have a limit of 480 Mbps, so I already lost some there. I also noticed that while I could play 720p HD content with no lag, 1080p is a totally different story. Also, file transfer rates are way slower than a wired connection, only in the 1.25 to 1.75 MB/s range. These rates could be related to settings or firmware. DLink forums are rife with complaints about the firmware updates for this router, so be warned. I expected 1080p content to lag, but did not expect file transfers to be this slow. I'll provide an update if I figure this out.
UPDATE 2: After crawling through the support forums for this particular feature of D-Link routers, this is about the fastest it's going to get. Full HD content that requires bit rates of 8 mbps and up just will not be able to stream from the USB attached hard drive without some lag. Faster (and more expensive) external USB drives can get up to about 3.75 MB/s, or ~30 mbps. I'm getting in the 14 mbps range, but streaming without buffering is what causes the lag on 1080p content. I was able to configure my Media Player Classic Home Cinema to handle the buffering (using its max setting in the the "EVR custom pres" video renderer), but it still felt like a compromise. Wired USB compares at 189 mbps or 23.8 MB/s for real world file transfer speed. And no lag. Meh. My router has the capability of Wireless USB, but I guess I can live with one more wire into my laptop.

So what's left in the wireless project initiative? I now have only 2 wires plugged into my laptop: an HDMI cable into my receiver, and an AC Adapter. If a standard ever gets adopted between WirelessHD or UWB (Ultra Wide Band), and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, then I can get rid of the HDMI cable. And...if the wireless recharging experiments finally come to market, I can get rid of the AC Adapter, too. Even so, I'm pretty happy that I was able to pair all my wires down to just these last 2, and all relatively easy, and affordably.