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All your devices will plug into this one — the router. It's how they'll talk.
The heart of the network
To connect all of these devices, we need a router. Why a router instead of a switch? Ease of use mainly — routers have DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) built in, meaning that they will be able to set the Internet Protocol addresses (IP) of all the devices hooked into it automatically. A switch requires you to set IPs manually, and can be a bit more hassle to manage.
For the not so au fait with the lingua franca of networking, it basically means you can plug in your computer, media player and other devices into the router and there's a very good chance they'll be able to get on the network without any need for further set-up. For those who run into troubles, you may want to check out our networking guides.
- Wireless networking made easy
- How to build a wireless network
- How to find out who's using your wireless
- Set up wireless file and print sharing
- Add a Mac to your Windows network
- Reduce interference on your wireless network
In terms of router choice, you may want to buy a combined ADSL modem/router, to get Internet access as well. You could also go wireless, and for most standard definition video content as long as you get a strong signal this should be sufficient — just make sure you get one with 802.11n. It also neatly gets rid of any cabling which could be a potential trip hazard — or spouse hazard if they can't abide the sight of blue, red, yellow or grey network cables strung all over the place.
If you're planning on hi-def content though (or simply want reliable throughput), a wired connection is where it's at. HDTV content can stream up to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), HD DVD peaks at 36Mbps and Blu-ray at 54Mbps — so you can get away with a cheaper 100Mbit wired router for all your transfers, if you like — although if you're going to be doing file transfers to other computers, gigabit is faster and always a nice bit of future-proofing.
How do I connect to a router?
In terms of cabling it's quite easy — your local Officeworks or computer store will sell perfectly fine Cat5e cable (otherwise known as network or Ethernet cable) in variable lengths which will handle gigabit transfer speeds fine. Pretty much everything on the home network we're talking about will have an Ethernet port (sometimes called network port) except the TV, so this is our universal connector, of sorts. You plug one end into your device, the other into the router. Easy!
Routers do differ from model to model though (as do media players), so we suggest you consult the manual that came with your devices in order to get all of them successfully talking to each other.