10 great Wi-Fi gadgets for work and play

Add these Wi-Fi devices to your network for a new world of wireless productivity and entertainment
  • (Computerworld)
  • — 25 September, 2008 10:16
  • The Grace Wireless Internet Radio lets you listen to Internet radio shows, podcasts and music on your PC from anywhere in your Wi-Fi zone, providing a surprisingly rich and clear sound.
  • Left: The Eye-Fi Share card pops into any camera with an SD card slot and automatically beams your photos over your Wi-Fi network to your computer and/or to any of two dozen online photo services.

Right: If you're in the market for a new camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50S sends your pictures wirelessly to Google's Picasa service.
  • The HP OfficeJet J4680 multifunction printer has a wireless print server built right in.
  • At $400, the Panasonic KX-WP1050 Wi-Fi phone for Skype is pricey, but coupled with one of Skype's inexpensive VoIP calling plans, it can save you money in the long run.
  • The eStarling WPF-388B digital photo frame uses Wi-Fi to pull photos off an online photo service, displaying them at a sharp 800-by-600 resolution.
  • The Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera watches over your home or office without the hassle and expense of running video cables throughout the building. You can even pan and zoom it remotely.
  • The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n wirelessly connects your Windows Media Center PC to your HDTV, meaning you can surf the Web, watch online videos and listen to Internet radio on your TV.
  • The NEC NP905 wireless projector creates a vibrant 1024-by-768 image on the screen while freeing you from clumsy cables.

Wi-Fi security camera: Something to watch over me

Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera

A wireless network offers a great opportunity to set up surveillance cameras that watch over your home or office without the hassle and expense of running video cables throughout the building. The US$250 Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera goes a step further than static cameras by letting you pan and zoom it remotely.

Setting it up took about 10 minutes. I started by plugging the camera into my router with an Ethernet cable and running the included CD on my computer. After that, a wizard took over and found the camera on the third try. I had to enter the camera's IP address on my computer to access the camera's setup screens and enter the network's encryption code. Finally, I disconnected the Ethernet cable and the camera was on its own; it connected with my Wi-Fi network on the first try.

The interface, which works with PCs only, can handle four separate video feeds over an 802.11b/g link. With it, I can remotely watch the scene, pan the camera side-to-side and up-and-down, and zoom in on a detail. There's an annoying one- or two-second delay between clicking on an action and the camera carrying it out, and you can hear the device's servo motors positioning the camera. The 640-by-480 video stream is surprisingly clear and detailed, although the video gets choppy when the camera gets about 90 feet away from the router.

I really like that the PTZ Internet Camera has a removable antenna that can be swapped for a more powerful one, potentially extending its range. After sensing motion in its field of view, the camera can take a snapshot, record video and then alert me via an e-mail, making it a burglar alarm that can capture evidence at the scene of the crime.

Wi-Fi Media Center extender: HDTV everywhere

HP MediaSmart Connect x280n

Here's my digital dilemma: My Windows Media Center PC is in the office, but the family's HDTV is at the other end of the house. So I used HP's MediaSmart Connect x280n to bring the two together. Now I can surf the Web, watch online videos and listen to Internet radio on my TV. At US$350, the x280n can inexpensively transform a TV into an online powerhouse.

Although the device works with 802.11a/b/g/n networks, HP suggests that only dual-band 802.11n routers have the throughput to reliably send high-definition video over a wireless link. My elderly 802.11g router obviously wasn't up to the task, so I swapped in a Linksys WRT600N 802.11n router.

Be prepared to set aside a couple of hours from start to finish, and be ready to go back and forth between the Media Center PC and TV several times to configure them. After going upstairs to connect the media extender to my Westinghouse 1080p TV and enter the network's encryption codes with the remote control, I went back downstairs to my HP HDX 9000 Media Center PC and installed the needed software, then back upstairs to make a few clicks and write down a special code. Finally, I went back downstairs to finish up by entering the TV's code on the PC.

Happily, this is a one-time setup chore, and the media extender's remote control allows efficient entry for the network's encryption codes. Once it was all connected and online, I watched movies on Cinema Now and Vongo, viewed pictures from the PC and watched shows I recorded on the Media Center PC -- all of which came through surprisingly well, with no jerkiness, delays or hiccups.

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld
Topics: peripherals, Printers, WLAN, consumer electronics, personal storage, wireless, entertainment, digital cameras
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