Stream HD video without wires—for real
Many have promised wireless HD video streaming; Netgear is the first to actually deliver it. The 3DHD Wireless Home Theater Networking Kit, which consists of a pair of Netgear WNHD3004s, delivers amazing performance. On the other hand, it’s so expensive ($230 street) that you could almost hire an electrician to string Ethernet cable.
The kit contains two devices that look much like Netgear’s old routers: One functions as an 802.11n wireless access point that you hard-wire to your router, and the other functions as an 802.11n wireless bridge that you hard-wire to your home-theater PC or other device that you wish to add to your network. What makes the 3DHD Kit unique is that each WND3004 uses a Quantenna chipset that transmits and receives four data streams using a 4x4 MIMO antenna array. The boxes are identical, with a three-position configuration switch (Auto, AP, Bridge) and a four-port, 100Mb/sec switch.
Netgear's 3DHD Home Theater Wireless Networking kit features a 4x4 MIMO chipset from Quantenna.
The WNHD3004s come from the factory pre-configured (one as an AP, the other as a bridge) and pre-paired. We suggest you leave them that way. For whatever reason, our eval units stopped communicating when we moved the bridge from one room to another, so we did what we usually do with wireless devices when we want to make a clean start: We used a paperclip to reset them both. Whoops.
The documentation Netgear puts in the box covers very little, so we had to troubleshoot the problem more or less in the dark. The user manual did mention that you can link additional bridges to the AP using the Wi-Fi Protected Setup buttons on the fronts of the devices, but that didn’t work no matter the distance between our two. So we set about poking around the AP’s web interface and discovered that WPS was turned off (the help file in the firmware indicates that the AP will do this automatically if it detects “suspicious activity,” whatever that means). Once we turned it back on, we immediately paired the two devices and were back in business.
We placed the AP in our closet, next to our router, and put the bridge in our home theater inside a wooden entertainment center with our home-theater PC. The home theater itself was designed to deliver great acoustics, which we accomplished by building a room-within-a-room: The room’s exterior shell is framed with 2x6 studs, but there’s a second top and bottom plate about an inch away from the first forming a second wall with 2x4 studs. This second wall is canted by about two degrees, so that the room’s front and back walls are not parallel (this is to prevent the formation of standing waves). To further deaden the room, the cavities between the studs are stuffed with a double layer of R19 insulation bats, and the interior walls and ceiling are clad with two layers of drywall. Many a Wi-Fi router has had trouble even reaching client devices inside this room (which doesn’t matter to us, practically speaking, because the room has four CAT5e drops). You’ll find more details about the room here.
We ripped our copy of the Blu-ray version of Spiderman 3 and copied it to an Intel Atom-powered Lenovo IdeaCentre D400 running Windows Home Server for our test. We then used SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive to mount the ISO image on our home theater rig and played it using Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 10. At least we tried to. We gave up after just a few minutes because of too many dropped frames and a soundtrack that cut out constantly. Fortunately for Netgear, we decided that the problem was with the home server machine, not the WNHD3004. When we copied the ISO image to a networked desktop PC running Windows 7, watching the movie using the wireless connection was indistinguishable from watching the movie using the clients Blu-ray drive. Impressive.
Netgear tells us the WNHD3004 is capable of wirelessly transmitting several high-definition video streams simultaneously, but we did not test this claim ourselves. The only reason for doing this in a home environment that we can think of would be to stream HD video to different rooms in the house, which would entail buying multiple kits, configuring each of the extra WNHD3004s as a bridge, and pairing each of them with the one WNHD3004 configured as an AP (Netgear does package the devices singly, but we couldn’t find single units for sale anywhere online).
In any event, the WNHD3004 does exactly what Netgear promises: It can stream Blu-ray video, including its associated high-definition audio stream (that’s a maximum data rate of 54Mbs/sec) without wires and without hiccups. That it was capable of doing this even in the challenging environment that is our home theater is even more impressive.
But the price tag is pretty steep and there are other, less-expensive alternatives—such as HomePlug AV and MoCA—that might work as well. (They at least don’t require new in-wall wiring.) These alternatives won’t work for everyone, of course: It can be difficult to ensure quality-of-service with HomePlug AV (especially if you have old wiring or are running a lot of Z-Wave devices), and most MoCA devices are designed for CableTV—versus satellite—installations. But we’d suggest looking into them, as well as the cost of installing Ethernet cable, before buying the WNHD3004.