The demands for home media network performance increases as we move towards richer multimedia content. As we move from music to YouTube to NetFlix to HD video home media networks need to keep up and need occasional upgrades. Which of your components need upgrades and which ones are still adequate? Where is the weakest link in your home media network? How fast does your home media network really have to be? This series of articles will help you find the bottlenecks in you home network and how to fix them so that you will be ready for the next generation of media streaming.
First we cover how to calculate the bandwidth you really need. Then we look at each component of a home media network and how they affect speed. Later we look at how to actually measure the speed of your network components and how to design/build a home network that will last you a long time.
|Voice Calls (HD)||1.5|
Learn more about video file types and bandwidth needs for media servers and players: Video File Formats for Media Servers and Players.
** These speeds should be doubled when calculating how much bandwidth you really need.
Home Media Network Bottlenecks
- Internet Connection: The speed of your Internet connection is controlled by your Internet Service Provider and may vary with time of day and may also vary from site to site. Measuring its speed out to the Internet is more reliable than using your ISP’s speed test which only measures the speed on their network. Note that for media applications, you are generally interested in the download speed. Sometimes upload speeds will factor in but generally not.
- Router & Ethernet: Router interfaces may be a limiting factor. Most home networks will have 100Mbps interfaces, though many newer routers have 1Gbps interfaces. If your traffic is within the home, like streaming from a media server (see here), then you will have the better part, say 80% of that, available for your home media network. Compare those values with those in the table above and see where you fit in and if you can support that media.
- PowerLine Connections: PowerLine (see here) devices use regular home electrical wiring to carry Ethernet signals. The quality of your connection, and the network speed, depends on many factors and may be hard to optimize. Though many PowerLine devices tout speeds above 300Mbps, the reality is that unless both devices are next to each other you will never get that much.
- WiFi Connections: Most existing home networks make use of at least some sort of WiFi device. Depending on when you purchased your device and the technology it uses, you probably have a 54 Mbps network. The drawing below compares the different generations of WiFi devices. The first generation is not shown since it didn’t get much use in homes. All other WiFi technologies are based on the IEEE 802.11 committee standards. First came 802.11a which gave you up to 11 Mbps, then came 802.11g and 802.11n which both operate at 54 Mbps.
The 802.11n standard however supports MIMO which means that it can operate on several channels at the same time. So in effect 802.11n can get close to 600Mbps.
A new standard hitting the shelves now is 802.11ac. This brings Gigabit per second speeds in the home for those bandwidth intensive media applications. If you need to buy a new router today and expect need to build a high speed home media network 802.11ac is the way to go. WiFi connections are usually the weakest link. They are often prone to dead spots. Make sure that your media devices are not located in these dead spots.