Although powerline networking -- sending your network signals via your home electrical wiring -- isn't a perfect solution, it meets a need in homes that either don't or can't use Wi-Fi. It might also appeal to those who don't want to rip up their carpets and bulldoze their walls to run Cat5 networking cables everywhere.
The ridiculously named Solwise NET-PLA-AV-3E-PIGGY6 HomePlug, or Piggy6 for short, costs around £80 and offers six filtered and surge-protected power sockets. For networking, there are three 100Mbps Ethernet ports, which should help those with a large amount of equipment to connect to their network.
You'll need at least one other HomePlug on your network to make use of the Piggy6.
Powerline networking can be really useful for moving large amounts of data around your network at fairly respectable speeds. The suggestion that products like the Piggy6 can manage 200Mbps is slightly spurious, but such products still manage to cope quite comfortably with video of up to 720p resolution.
We opted to use the Piggy6 in our home-cinema system -- the intended purpose for this device. Ours had a Popcorn Hour A-110 media streamer and an Xbox 360 connected to its three-port hub, and we plugged various TV, HD-disc players and amplifiers into the six-way power adaptor.
Using the Piggy6
During testing, we didn't suffer any major outages. Our test environment -- a reasonably new flat outside Greater London -- has had a HomePlug network consisting of four other HomePlug AV adaptors for some time now. We swapped the Piggy6 with one of the existing plugs and, happily, everything worked well within seconds. HomePlug products pride themselves on being virtually configuration free, and, indeed, the Piggy6 is.
Such simplicity is bound to appeal to technophobes, especially those who have tried in vain to make a wireless network work. You should be able to simply plug a pair of HomePlug adaptors in and wait for them to sync with each other.
Compatibility can be an issue with HomePlug products. Although, in theory, all HomePlug AV-certified products should work well with each other, we have had problems getting them to talk to each other in the past.
We were able to transfer test files from a Windows Vista machine to the Popcorn Hour A-110 with no problems. MPEG-4 files in MKV containers worked brilliantly up to 720p. 1080p files didn't stream especially well in our set-up, however, with both picture and audio suffering frequent stutters. Such stutters were especially noticeable in scenes with plenty of camera movement.
Security might be an issue too. The Piggy6 uses the same 128-bit AES encryption as other HomePlug products. Generally speaking, your home wiring shouldn't be connected with other wiring in adjacent flats anyway, but, if it is, the encryption should keep your data safe.
Is it worth £80?
Having used it in our test environment, we'd say that the Solwise Piggy6 is worth every penny. If you already have Ethernet going to your TV, you'd be far better off buying an Ethernet hub instead, but most people don't wire their home cinemas into their network.
With media streamers and games consoles becoming more popular and requiring network connectivity, having some form of network incorporating your TV seems like a good idea. When draft 'n' wireless becomes more popular and practical, perhaps we can bid wires farewell, but we're far from that moment yet.
For those in need of networking in places that wireless won't reach, the Piggy6 is great solution, and well worth the cash.
Edited by Charles Kloet