Christmas 2011 will involve a record number of electronics, most of which are able to connect to the Internet. Tablets, TV’s, Blu-ray players, game consoles, smartphones, laptops…even picture frames and kitchen appliances are coming with features that require an Internet connection. Fortunately we’re at a point where connecting a gadget is a fairly simply process, but there are ways to make sure your settings are optimized to receive the best performance. Today, I thought I would go through some tips to get your inevitable Christmas gadget gift working to its full potential.
The XBox 360, Playstation 3, and the Wii are all going to show up under people’s trees this year, and they all require a high-speed Internet connection to work properly. Fortunately the Wireless modem that TOAST.net includes with our DSL connections is already configured to work with these consoles out of the box — simply enter the wireless password into the console’s network settings and you’re off.
There is a catch however…wireless connections may work well, but are not actually the best for gaming. Ask a gamer about the most important thing when playing something like Modern Warfare or Call of Duty, and you’ll hear “ping time.” Ping time is a measure of latency, or how long an action takes to register on the Internet and get a response. The lower your ping time, the faster a game will register your trigger pull, giving you an advantage over players with higher ping times. By nature, a wireless connection is a bit “lossy”. It may randomly drop pieces of information due to natural interference (similar to the way a radio station in your car may fade in and out from time to time). For the best performance on a game console, plug them directly into one of the Ethernet jacks in the back of the modem. This will reduce lag, decrease your ping, and help the kids rack up more kills during the holidays (wow, that would sound really bad out of context).
I just read that 33% of cellphone users world-wide are now using smartphones…and why not? How cool is it being able to get any piece of information that pops into your head instantly? The problem is the data plan. Cell phone data plans are based on usage…meaning the more 3G or 4G data you consume, the more expensive your plan is. You can actually save some money on your cell bill by optimizing your phone to use available WiFi connections. Smartphones are aptly named…they’re smart! Since free WiFi is available nearly everywhere these days, all you have to do is tell your phone to connect to any available wireless network once, and in the future anytime you are within range of that network it will automatically switch off your carrier’s 3G or 4G connection and use WiFi. I’m an incredibly heavy smartphone user, but WiFi is available in my office, in the mall, in most restaurants, and in many other public places. Therefore I only average around 500MB of usage per month. If I didn’t use WiFi, I would be around 4GB per month. That’s quite a savings. Turn on your phone’s WiFi and connect to public networks whenever you can! Once you get a nice collection going, you can evaluate your data plan and save some cash.
Blu-ray Players and TV Apps
One of the best things about Blu-ray players and newer “Connected” flat screen TV’s are the online features. If you connect your Blu-ray player to your Internet connection, you gain access to automatic updates that may improve performance and add features. Many players and TV’s are coming with Netflix, Amazon Video, and other apps that allow you to stream movies and TV shows. Some even let you play games and connect to social networks. You can usually connect these devices with wireless or Ethernet, but the speed of your connection is going to determine your limits. High definition video (video that takes advantage of 720p or higher video) requires a minimum of a 3.0Mb connection. Any less than that and your movies may start skipping and buffering. If you want to go with 1080p video (Apps like Vudu and Blockbuster offer these choices), you’ll need a 6.0Mb connection. You can check with TOAST.net if you’re having problems watching movies on these devices. We usually have higher speeds available for an extra $10/month.
Also, as with gaming consoles, high-definition video may work better with Ethernet rather than wireless due to the lossy nature of wireless connections. If you have a fast connection and you’re still having problems with skipping or buffering, try switching to Ethernet.
Laptops and tablets have officially replaced the desktop computer as the preferred way to use the Internet. They’re portable, they don’t confine you to a desk, and they have wireless connectivity built-in. However, your new-found mobility may reveal some “dead-spots” around your home or office. These areas may see a drop or complete loss of wireless signal, creating frustrating no-man’s-land areas.
A typical wireless router will realistically give about 300 ft. of coverage area, but different materials can block or interfere with WiFi. If you have walls made from plaster lath or cider block, wireless hates you. If your wireless modem is shoved under a hand made Amish oak armoire, you’re not going to have much better luck. To maximize the wireless signal for your laptop:
- Height = Range: Get your wireless modem as high as you can. This helps avoid signal-blocking obstacles and may allow a signal to leak into those dead spots.
- Be proud of your modem- don’t hide it: Storing your wireless modem under desks, in drawers, under books, etc. will affect its wireless range.
- Keep the antenna away from wires: Electrical interference from electrical cables can distort your wireless signal. Keep the antenna several inches away from cables.
Use these tips and enjoy your gifts!