Back in mid-2010 when I had just got my UniFi high-speed broadband service installed, I wrote a detailed post describing my setup. Since then, I had received numerous questions from blog readers pertaining to UniFi installation in general. It’s 2012 now and I’m writing this post because I’ve got an interesting technological bit to share. Read on…
My UniFi Setup – A Recap
As described in my earlier post, here’s how my devices are set up: The fibre broadband termination unit (BTU), the residential gateway and the DECT phone are situated near the middle section of the house. The IPTV set-top-box (STB) is located next to the TV in the living room. I felt that it wasn’t practical for me to pull a cable from the middle section of the house to the living room to stream IPTV content to the STB; so, I settled for a pair of HomePlugs (or Power Line Communication Adapters). These HomePlugs transmit network data via existing home electrical wiring. No unsightly long cables. Pretty cool right?
The HomePlug “Gotchas”
The HomePlug solution does work…well, to a certain extent. Yes, I was able to get UniFi HyppTV to stream to my TV. However, the streamed video would occasionally stutter—visibly seen in the form of pixelated blocks on screen. The experience is analogous to watching Astro while it’s raining…if you know what I mean.
Although my Aztech HL110E HomePlugs are rated at 200Mbps, from what I understand, the numbers are usually no where near that under real-world scenarios.
It’s recommended that for best data transfer rates over power lines, HomePlugs should be plugged straight to the wall socket but unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury. As mentioned in my earlier post, both my HomePlugs are plugged into a power strip on each end, respectively. Having other devices sharing the power strip introduces “noise” to the power line and therefore impacting the data transfer rate. In fact, other appliances within other parts of the house are also adding noise to the power line.
During usage, the Aztech units in my setup were mostly showing “red” on the data transfer rate LED (green = best, amber = good, red = fair, none = failed). This is certainly far from ideal!
The Solution for the Solution
It came to my attention lately that there’s a new add-on device that can solve the transfer-rate issues typically associated with HomePlugs. This device is developed by Cal-Lab (the Malaysian-based company known primarily for its patented lightning isolators) and is called Powerline-Ace. I had the privilege of testing the product out during this pre-launch phase.
The Powerline-Ace model as shown in the picture (above) has three sockets. One socket is reserved for the HomePlug and the remainder two sockets are for attaching other electrical items like a power strip. Apart from being a power line network conditioning device, the unit is also a lightning isolator. On the side of the unit, there are two available grounding points for attaching earth leads from Cal-Lab LAN lightning isolator—for example.
In my test setup, two Powerline-Ace units were added to the mix i.e. one unit on each end. Other than that, nothing else changed.
After about a month of usage, all the video streaming issues that I had mentioned before has gone. Even the HyppTV HD channels like Travel Channel and LUXE.TV streamed flawlessly.
This was evident by the transfer rate LED on my HomePlug. Both HomePlug LEDs sustained at green (previously red) throughout usage. I have a mini-HiFi which is on the same power strip as the TV and STB. Even with all of these appliances turned on at the same time, IPTV streaming remained smooth and the HomePlug LED remained at green.
In fact, when other noise-generating appliances (e.g. the water heater, rice cooker, etc) from the other parts of the house were in use, the Powerline-Ace units remained steadfast—performing admirably.
In the following video, I documented how turning on the vacuum cleaner did not negatively affect the HyppTV viewing experience at all. Also, take note of the middle LED on the HomePlug.
For a more robust experience, Cal-Lab also offers a single-socket power line network conditioning device (see below – left) for attaching to noise generating appliances. I had the opportunity to test these units out too.
Since I already had good results without these additions, there was nothing much else to look out for (with respect to my HyppTV viewing experience). I suppose these units would make a difference if the HomePlugs were used for regular Internet usage (i.e. surfing, P2P transfers) where squeezing every bit of the bandwidth matters more or if complete lightning protection is required.
To sum it up, the Powerline-Ace units performed exceedingly well and it definitely enhanced my UniFi HyppTV viewing experience. Now I know there’s finally a technically viable solution for HomePlug or power line network related issues!
Update (October 2012): Powerline-Ace is now available in Malaysia.