Most of the CE devices in the market today connect to the Internet as well as the home network. While many of them have the capability to connect to wireless networks, it is not really a great option for many of the bandwidth hungry units. Examples of such units include Netflix streaming TVs or media streamers such as the WDTV Live. Many a consumer has been frustrated by the incessant buffering and playback stuttering while putting wireless networks (even of the 802.11n variety) to use in such scenarios. Further, not all consumers have the luxury of a flawless wireless network in their residence. Running an Ethernet cable around the house is one option, but it is too cumbersome and costly for many. In this scenario, the electrical network within the house looks like an unexploited part of the equation.

The HomePlug AV standard aims to deliver networking capabilities around the house by taking advantage of the already existing electrical wiring. It is the baseline specification for the upcoming IEEE standard (IEEE P1901). There are other competing standards (we will cover them briefly in the next section), but the product being covered today adheres to the HomePlug AV standard. If you are interested in only finding out how the WD Livewire performs, please feel free to continue reading from the 'Unboxing & Setup Impressions' section onwards. On the other hand, if you want to learn about the history of powerline networking and the companies active in this space, this, as well as the next section, will be of interest.

Wikipedia traces the history of the HomePlug standard quite well. We have been following the consumer powerline networking area over the last 4 or 5 years, and realized that there is only one chipset vendor shipping any appreciable amount of chips in this space. Intellon, acquired by Atheros towards the end of 2009, is the brain behind almost all the powerline network adapters shipped in the last few years. Belkin claimed a 1 Gbps powerline adapter last year based on the Hispano-Scottish startup Gigle Semiconductor, but the reviews indicated that it performed no better than the 200 Mbps chipsets supplied by Intellon. When Western Digital contacted us to review their first product in this space, and indicated that the PHY rate was at 200 Mbps, we had little doubt that this would be another unit based on the Atheros (Intellon) chipset. Our suspicions were confirmed later (details can be found in the 'Livewire Internals' section).


 

In the 2010 CES, Atheros / Intellon introduced their fourth generation HomePlug based chipset, the AR7400. As the release indicates, the AR7400 is supposed to operate at a PHY rate of 500 Mbps for powerline applications, but gets a boost to 700 Mbps over coax cables. However, units based on the AR7400 are yet to hit the market. All Atheros/Intellon based products shipping currently are based on the third generation product, the INT6400.

The first generation chipsets introduced way back in 2001 had PHY rates of 14 Mbps (the real throughput was much lesser). The second generation products had a PHY rate of 85 Mbps, while the INT6400 third generation products ups this to 200 Mbps. With the advent of HD media streaming (and multiple streams, at that), 200 Mbps PHY rates are barely enough, and Western Digital has wisely decided to advertise the Livewire kit as being meant for sharing an Internet connection. That said, an idea of the effective bandwidth available also indicates the suitability of the product for data and media transfer within the home network.

As already indicated, the WD Livewire product is based on the HomePlug standard. Are there any other standards available for networking with already existing cables? Do they work, and are they shipping? We will cover this in detail in the next section.

Powerline Networking Standards
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  • PlcBooster - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    Hi Souka,

    Firstly, I would like to convey my Big KUDOS! to Mr. Ganesh T S on his good and inside report on the Powerline Networking with the Western Digital Livewire. He furnished us with very informative good and un bias reports.

    I bet many people, end users or rather consumers are quite dismay after they use the PLC adapters and put them into real action ie use at home or at their office.
    But hold on your dismay, cos, there is a company in APAC that I know can help or overcome this 10 years inherent issues that have been plaguing these PLC manufacturers, they will be planning to launch their product once they find the right business partner, may be Western Digital Livewire, if WD are keen to explore with them. So that the PLC adapters adoption and acceptance rate will surely flourish worldwide with an affordable price of course. :)

    Cheers! to Mr. Ganesh!
    Reply
  • PlcBooster - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    There is light at the end of the tunnel for all PLC adapters manufacturers, distributors & end users

    Kindly feel free to view these three short informative videos at the following links below:

    PLC-adapters have been proven to perform better with Surestreamer

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84C7k...eature=rela...

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV6Jn...eature=rela...

    Part 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQuQg...eature=rela...

    Thank you very much & Merry Christmas!
    Reply
  • casteve - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    Ganesh, thanks for the review. Since WD wants this device to be plugged into the wall and not into a surge protector power strip or UPS:

    1) How much AC power do the two units use?
    2) Do they have an on/off switch?
    3) Is there surge protection circuitry built in and are there any guarantees to it? Seems like there would be a surge path via the ethernet ports.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    casteve,

    The device acts as a router of sorts, consuming around 3 - 3.5 W. Load or no-load didn't make much of a difference with the Kill-a-watt I was using (it is not really accurate at such low power numbers).

    It does have an on-off switch right next to the power connection point.

    I will get back to you on the surge protection circuitry in a bit.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    casteve, I have unofficial confirmation from outside sources that the board design also has surge protection circuitry built in. I am still waiting to hear back officially from WD PR. Reply
  • casteve - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the power usage info. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Yes, sometimes it is very hard to fish cabling though a wall to get what you want exactly where you need it but come on folks. There are so many neat and tidy ways to run cabling, surely most anyone can find a way to get it done.

    Such as pulling the floor trim off of the wall, and running cable behind it. Wont work for you ? Raise it up a bit, and run the cabling just under the floor trim(sometimes all that is needed is a wedge, and a screwdriver). Or how about; Under the carpet in the corner of the wall . . . all that is required is a little imagination, and wiliness to spend some time to get it done.

    *Or* if things are extremely tough, you can drill a few strategic holes where you *know* you will not cut into anything important ( like power runs or plumbing, etc ), and fish from point A to B to . . .Z. It is not as though doing wall patch work is all that difficult. Again, all that is required is a bit of imagination, and time to achieve. Anyone can make excuses.

    I shudder to think of the alternative. Which is *hoping* your electrical is clean / noise free enough to use something that in this persons humble opinion should never have even been given a second thought.
    Reply
  • Brucmack - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    I've been using two Amitech home plugs for a while to connect my media box under my TV to the rest of my network. There are a couple of "gotchas" to consider. First, if you have a house with really old wiring, don't expect to get a very stable or fast connection. Second, some chargers can interfere with the signal, especially if you use the homeplug on a power strip. But basically if you can get a stable signal, it's quicker and more reliable than wireless. Reply
  • kwlinca - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Powerline technology only works when connecting 2 locations on the SAME circuit. My computer is located on one circuit in the front of the house and my AV equipment is located on a different circuit in the back of my house. It is only when you read the fine print that you find this out. Reply
  • Welshtrog - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    The problem with these units is that they are effectively broadband transmitters and cover a large section of the radio spectrum which is why radio users object to their use and objectors can cause them to be removed. by ofcom Reply

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