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What is a Powerline Adapter?

Connect to your Network and Share Media Over Your Home's Electrical Wiring

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Netgear AV+ Powerline Adapter

The Netgear AV+ 200 Powerline Adapter has a passthrough electrical outlet so you can still plug in a surge protector or other device.

Photo (c) Barb Gonzalez - licensed to About.com
Most home theater devices are not in the same room as a home network's router. That wasn't a problem until home theaters included network media players, networked TVs, Blu-ray players and home theater components. Now it's important to find a way to connect to your router to access the internet and stream photos, music and movies from media libraries on your home network.

Unless you want run long ethernet cables through your house or pay to have ethernet cables installed in your walls, you need another solution to connect your network media player, network TV and/or other network home theater device.  

What is a Powerline Adapter and How Does it Work?

One way to connect a network media player or device to your router is by using powerline adapters. A powerline adapter is an alternative to running in-wall ethernet cables because it can send your media files and data over your household's existing electrical wiring just like it would over ethernet cables.

A network media player or network device connects to a powerline adapter using an ethernet cable.  The powerline adapter is plugged into a wall electrical outlet. It can now send and/or receive media files and data over your home's electrical wiring to a second powerline adapter in another location. The second powerline adapter is plugged into a wall electrical outlet near the location of your router. It is connected to your router using an Ethernet cable. 

Connecting your network players and router to powerline adapters is almost like connecting them directly to each other using ethernet cables. Still, while it is a convenient way to connect to your home network, you have to choose a powerline adapter that can stream high definition video and audio without buffering and interruptions.  

Different Powerline Adapter Models

For the best viewing experience, choose an AV powerline adapter that can better accommodate streaming video from your media libraries or from online. Look for adapters that are rated faster than 300 Mb/s. Note that this does not mean you can stream around your home at that speed, rather it is the total amount that can be sent through the powerline adapter if there is more than one device streaming at the same time.

Some powerline adapters have multiple ethernet ports to accommodate up to four networked devices -- a DVR, a networked TV, a networked media player, and a game console.

The basic powerline adapter model is large and boxlike and can block your outlets where you plug it in. If you get a wall outlet powerline adapter, be sure it is a model that has an electrical pass through outlet into which you can plug in a component or surge protector. 

Because powerline adapters send your music, movies and photos over the electrical wiring between the outlets where each adapter is plugged in, other household appliances that are also plugged into wall outlets can cause interference that will slow the streaming media. Some powerline adapters have power filters meant to clean up this interference. 

Plug the Powerline Adapter Directly Into a Wall Outlet

Most powerline adapters will not work if plugged into an extension cord. While some surge protectors now have a powerline compliant outlet ("PLC") that allows a powerline adapter to pass along its data, performance is usually better when the powerline adapter is plugged directly into the wall socket. 

The Future of Powerline Adapters

Later in 2010, Sigma Designs announced ClearPath technology that improves the speed and reliability of sharing media using powerline and can reduce any electrical interference from household appliance. ClearPath can also stream media over a home's coaxial cable lines --put in by the cable or satellite company-- and even phone jacks.

Michael Weissman, Vice President of Corporate Marketing for Sigma Designs told me that they hope to have ClearPath built into computers, network media players, and network home theater devices. With a built-in ClearPath chip, the media would be shared over powerlines by simply plugging the computer or device into an electrical socket. With ClearPath, there would be no other cables or devices, you would be connected to your home network as soon as you plug in and power up your device. It doesn't get much easier than that.

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