The challenge was simple. Without using horrendously expensive equipment, without indulging in hours of complex set up and without needing a rocket science degree in making it all work together, could I – in a reasonable amount of time – get rid of almost all wires attached to audio and video equipment in a house? Could I achieve the ultimate Tech Nirvana – and go completely WF (Wire Free)?
As technology explodes and new devices deliver a fantastic amount of features and performance, we buy them and install them with relentless abandon. Yet, the one thing that never seems to get an upgrade is the fact that they all run with a huge number of wires and cables. Wires that go in and wires that come out. If you’ve got a flat panel TV and are looking to achieve that perfect on-the-wall picture frame look that you see in high-end interior decor magazines – you’re in serious trouble. Almost any flat panel TV will be attached to a DVD or blu-ray player, a set-top box, a gaming console and maybe even a media streamer.
That’s four big, thick cables that go straight into your TV. They dangle there, gather dust and debris and make all your aspirations for a pure and clean look come crashing down. Audio equipment is an even bigger problem. Amps, source player, speakers, subwoofer – each has wires and cables running circles around you with gay abandon. The challenge was to eliminate as many of these as I could. Rules of engagement: (1) I must set up all new equipment from scratch. (2) It should all be done in a manner that could be replicated by anyone. Time to complete challenge: 2 hours. Could I complete the WF challenge? Time to find out.
The first thing to install was a wireless router. This would be the central hub to control all things, give the entire systems the brains and lay a solid foundation. Any mistake here would come back and bite me where the sun don’t shine. My weapon of choice here was the Belkin 750.
Where no router has gone before
The main reason to go with this router was its coverage. It’s got an unprecedented number of antennas with multibeam technology and literally throws WiFi signals to places no router has ever reached before. It’s also got two USB ports, therefore converting any USB hard drive to a network drive (the drive and all its content is thus available to any WiFi enabled laptop, Tablet, media streamers and even some phones without any need for any USB or Ethernet cables) and converts any printer into a WiFi printer. I plugged my broadband cable into the router and it literally auto configured the connection all on its own.
Time taken: 14 minutes. So far, so good. The only thing I didn’t like about this router was that it has a single light on it. It’s a nice, sexy, blue light that goes orange if anything goes wrong – but that’s pretty much it! I just don’t get why Belkin and all other router companies are going for this minimalistic look. I need a full three-inch LCD screen on top that tells me everything that is going on inside in exact detail, such as Internet speeds, which LAN ports are connected and more, and spells out an error in plain English. I don’t want to crack open the manual every single time that freaking light is blinking in that very come-hither orange colour. Rave and rant time over. Now, back to work! Next up was the Sonos Multi-Room Audio system.
Audio for the intelligent
Sonos seems to be a company that has been put together by people who must have torn their hair out in frustration when setting up audio equipment. They seem to have taken into consideration every single annoyance that anybody can go through in setting up music. Rage and fury is out of the window – calm and serene is in. Sonos comes in many different configurations but they all achieve the same thing – wireless audio in every room. I set up two pieces of equipment: the Play 5, which has speakers built in, and the Sonos Zone Player 90, which attaches to an amp and speakers. I took a Sonos Bridge unit (it has a complex name but is actually idiot-proof) and attached it to the LAN port of the router. The Sonos software on my laptop told me to press the button on top of this unit and voila! the Sonos part was all set. This unit now transmits its own WiFi mesh signal out to all the other units. In effect, they talk to each other in their own private space.
And other signals like cordless phones and microwave ovens can’t touch them. Next, I placed the Sonos, Play and the 90 in different rooms, touched the button on top and all three were part of the same network instantly. Great! Time taken to set up three Sonos units: 22 minutes; Total time on project: 36 minutes. The only issue with the Sonos is that it’s pretty sensitive to distance. Would I be able to set up audio in rooms on different floors? Would a USB drive with 2 TB of hi-def music attached to the router broadcast into each room with no signal loss and distortion? Well, I would find out soon enough.
With an hour and 24 minutes on the clock, I still had to set up wireless speakers; get a blu-ray player, a WD Live Media Streamer, a Tata Sky HD set-top box and a Playstation 3 gaming console to attach and play with zero wires going into my TV; get the Sonos system to read music wirelessly off a USB drive; and install equipment that could play music and movies from a phone and a Tablet wirelessly onto a TV and speakers. This would need some serious tech magic. Did I manage or did I crash and burn spectacularly? Find out next week.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, February 19
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