It's predicted that 2011 is the tipping year of networking, where more electronic devices have built-in networking capabilities than computers. And this isn't a surprise; over the past few years, more and more home entertainment devices, such as flat-screen TVs, media playback devices, game consoles, and so on, include an Ethernet port. Others use USB Wi-Fi dongles to connect to a wireless network, and many even come with a built-in Wi-Fi adapter.
As more and more devices in your home scramble to find ways to connect to one another and to the Internet, the wireless network might be able to handle all of them, especially those at the far end or in the basement of the house. This is where powerline networking, which turns your home's electrical wiring into data cable, comes into play. And, of course, before data can be moved back and forth between different devices, it first needs to reside somewhere. This is when you need to start thinking about network storage.
With that said, these are my educated guesses on what consumers can expect to see at CES 2011 in the realm of home networking and storage.
By now, most, if not all, home users are familiar with the wireless router that handles two types of networking: wired (also known as Ethernet, which connects devices using network cables) and wireless, which allows computers and other Wi-Fi-ready devices to connect to the network and one another without being physically connected to a router or a hub.
Now if you want to use a powerline connection to extend the network to the far end of the house, you will need at least two adapters, one at the router and one at the far end. This brings up the question: why not make the router itself also work as the first adapter? After all, it needs to be connected to the wall socket anyway.
Expect to find answers to this at the upcoming CES. The idea of an all-in-one router, which can handle Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and powerline, was first introduced by Atheros back in October. By early next year, you'll likely be able to purchase one of them from different networking vendors.
Routers with built-in network storage functions, namely having internal storage--such as the LaCie Wireless Space or the Apple Time Capsule--and those with built-in USB ports to support external hard drives, will also be more popular and, most importantly, support faster storage throughput speeds. This would spare those with casual needs of network data-sharing and media streaming from having a dedicated NAS server.
Chances are you'll also find those that support Ethernet, Wi-Fi, powerline, and have built-in fast network storage capabilities.
Network media player that also work as a NAS server
Network media players, such as theWD TV Live, WD TV Live Plus, Seagate Theater Plus, and the Segate Golex TV have been getting more and more popular in the pat two years. These are players that can play back digital content from external hard drives, network storage devices, or even stream them from the Internet. In other words, they are network media streamers. And for the most part, they work very well.
All of these players, however, share one common shortcoming, which is the fact that they don't work as streaming servers: you can't play content stored on these player from another player, such as a computer.
The idea of a media player that is also a streaming server was actually introduced back during CES 2010 with QNAP's MP1000, the first NAS server that's also a media player. Unfortunately, the device for some reason didn't catch on in the U.S. Consumers had to wait till the end of the year for Western Digital to introduce a similar product, the WD TV Live Hub, which is one of the first media player/NAS servers of its type in the U.S.
Expect more of these devices to be introduced at CES 2011.
Powerline adapters that have multiple purposes
Up to now, most powerline adapters have offered just one function: extending the wired network via the home's electrical wiring. They also have cap speeds of 200Mbps (which translates into much slower real-world speeds).
Examples of these are the Plaster Networks PLN3, the Linksys PLK300, and the WD Livewire. With these adapters, you'll have to resort to a hub or an access point at the far corner if you want to add more devices, especially wireless devices, to the network.
However, powerline adapters can do more than that. The recently introduced Trendnet TPL-401E2K powerline kit, for example, is the first that can offer speeds up to 500Mbps by supporting the latest in powerline technology. The Powerline Av 200 Wireless-N Extender Kit from Netgear, on the other hand, has the second adapter (used at the far end of the powerline connection) that can also work as a wireless extender.
At CES 2011, there will likely be more powerline products like these that combine both additional functionality and faster speeds.
Faster wireless speeds
Most Wireless-N routers and adapters on the market offer cap speeds of 300Mbps. This is because most of them use the dual-stream standard. The N specs, however, can handle more than just dual stream. The recently available Trendnet TEW-691GR , for example, is the first router on the market that can handle the three-stream standard; it offers cap speeds of 450Mbps.
To take advantage of this faster speed, the clients (the wireless adapters) also need to support the three-stream standard. And they will likely become more popular starting with CES 2011. Multiple-stream N devices might also be introduced.
WiDi and WHDI to be widely adopted
If you want to quickly display your laptop's screen on a big TV, currently there are two popular ways: either by using WiDi-based accessories, such as the Netgear Push2TV, or using WHDI-based accessories, such as the WiCast from Asus.
These accessories work with the TV's HDMI port and allow you to stream a computer's display onto a big-screen TV, wirelessly. In a demonstration, WHDI seems to be a lot better, as it has almost no lag, allowing for smooth video playback and even online gaming. However, both of these standards work well and share the fact that you need to use extra devices at both ends: the computer and the TVs.
Starting with CES 2011, more and more laptop as well as home entertainment devices, especially flat-screen TVs, will have WiDi and/or WHDI functionality integrated. This means you can create HDMI-like connection between them without having to use an HDMI cable.
This is actually very exciting; in the future, if one of these technologies is embedded on a smartphone or a portable game console, you can quickly display the little device's screen on a big TV just by standing within 30 feet from it. Imagine playing iPhone games using the big screen as the display and the phone as the controller, completely wirelessly and without lag.
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I hope these have made at least some of you excited. Other than these, it's also predicted that USB 3.0 will soon take the place of USB 2.0 on both laptop and desktop computers. Storage vendors will introduce more and more USB external hard drives that are based on solid-state drives, that can full take advantage of USB 3.0 speeds. Personally, I hope that Intel will demo the next generation of peripheral connectivity, called Light Peak, which is estimated to be rolled out in 2012.
Speaking of excitement and demonstrations, you can also be certain that IoSafe will make an another crazy demo out of its upcoming and mysterious new device.
How about you? What, in terms of networking and storage, are you expecting/hoping to see at the show?