We've heard a lot about internet TVs of late, and with all the big manufacturers recently unveiling the latest versions of their web-based offerings, this trend isn't unlikely to go away any time soon. In fact, it's expected to take off in a big way this year. Many people already have internet-enabled TVs or Blu-ray players but they haven't hooked them up because their router is on the other side of the room, or even in a different room altogether. Thats's where the WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit from Western Digital comes in.
The idea is that the Livewire lets you create a high-speed network using your mains power supply so that you don't need to trail unsightly wires all over the place. The device is HomePlug AV certified, meaning that it gets the badge of approval from the HomePlug Powerline Alliance which was set up to promote the use of home networking on existing electrical lines.
Each adaptor measures just 119 x 86 x 32mm, so they're fairly compact and should be easy to hide away behind the TV or Xbox so that the aesthetics of your fancy home cinema setup aren't ruined. There's not a lot else to say about the small, black plastic boxes - all you'll find is an on/off switch, power socket, Ethernet ports and a few LED indicators to tell you when the units are on and when each Ethernet port is in use.
Set-up is very easy indeed, with the manufacturer claiming that it's "as easy as plugging in a lamp". All you need to do is plug one unit into the wall and hook it up to your broadband router using the Ethernet cable, then take the other unit and connect it up to a power socket near your chosen AV device, which you then connect, again using one of the Ethernet ports. If you still get stuck then the Livewire is provided with a CD for you computer that offers access to a downloadable user manual and there's also a colourful guide in the box that pretty much spells out out the process in big, easy-to-understand pictures.
While many similar products only include one Ethernet port per power point, the Livewire includes four ports on each unit which means than you can connect up to seven devices to your router. This is really handy if you've got lots of pieces of kit to hook hook up such as a TV, games console, computer or NAS drive.
The box contains two power cables along with two Ethernet cables so you've everything that you need to get started. The only problem that we had with both the power leads and the Ethernet cables was that they're all quite short so you don't get a lot of flexibility as to where you can put them in relation to your power points. As the manufacturer advises plugging them directly into your power sockets, rather than connecting them through a plug board, this means that they can only be placed a very short distance from your power points.
If you're worried about security, then you can sleep safe in the knowledge that the data trasfer between the two boxes is automaticaly protected with a 128-bit encryption, so you won't need a password.
According to WD, the Livewire offers data speeds of up to 200Mbps which, in theory, should be enough for smooth streaming of high-def videos. In practive, it'll rarely reach that rate because of the usual obstacles, mostly to do with the wiring in your home. We found that high-def streaming of films at 720p worked really well, although the Livewire struggled slightly with full HD 1080p footage. You'll also find that the transfer speeds drop somewhat if you've got more than one device hooked up.
Overall, the WD Livewire is pretty good value, especially as you get a generous number of Ethernet Ports while several more expensive rivals offer just one port on each adaptor. If you need an easy way of hooking up a web-enabled TV or games console to an awkwardly located broadband connection, then this is a good choice. You might find that full HD streaming is tiny bit unpredictable, but all-round performance is good, especially for the price.