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Belkin Powerline AV Networking Adapters review: Belkin Powerline AV Networking Adapters

Belkin's take on power line networking benefits from a streamlined design compared to many Ethernet over power products, but still doesn't deliver on the hype.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
3 min read

Design

For far too long, AC-based Ethernet adapters have had something in common — they've been big, bulky and unsightly. Aesthetics aside, big bulky adapters are a pain to fit in most sockets (when vertically mounted they fall out easily) and their size means they often block adjacent ports. We have seen variances in this approach — Billion's BiPAC 2070 managed to dodge this with a cabled approach, but then went and spoilt it with a power brick design that looked like it belonged to a VIC-20.

7.2

Belkin Powerline AV Networking Adapters

The Good

Simple installation. No chunky "brick" to plug into the wall. Consistent performance.

The Bad

Doesn't live up to the 200Mbps hype.

The Bottom Line

Belkin's take on power line networking benefits from a streamlined design compared to many Ethernet over power products, but still doesn't deliver on the hype.

If there's one nice thing to say about Belkin's take on power line, it's that the adapters dodge both problems. The Ethernet connected side of its adapters are still pretty big, but they're designed with rounded corners that give them a fairly pleasant aesthetic. Belkin's approach to wall mounting is an interesting one. The base of each adapter is blank, and supplied in the box you'll find a bare mounting plate with AC prongs — for straight wall mounting — as well as plates that snake out to a cable. This gives you flexibility in how you plug them in, although we frankly can't see too many consumers opting for the straight wall mounting option.

The Powerline AV Starter Kit comes with two adapters, two power plugs and two Ethernet cables, as well as set-up instructions and an installation CD.

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Features

The key feature of the Powerline AV Networking Adapters is printed in big letters on the outside of the box, namely the ability to stream data around your home or office at up to 200Mbps. As with most noted network performance figures, this is a "best case" scenario, and it's to Belkin's credit that it does note that on the front of the box. Then again, the note reads that "The standard transmission rate — 200Mbps — is the physical data rate. Actual data throughput will be lower" is in a font that's roughly 5 per cent of the size of the 200Mbps claim. So harrumph, still.

The Powerline AV kit is HomePlug 2.0 certified. By default, security isn't enabled, but you can set up AES encryption via a button on the adapter, although you will need to be able to move between adapters relatively quickly to get this working.

Performance

One of the nice aspects of power line networking is that it is deceptively simple to set up. You just plug it into the power, plug it into your network — either a router if you're sharing a connection, or just between PCs with networking enabled — and after a couple of seconds for it to initialise, it's good to go. Or not go — and that's been something of a problem for power line equipment, as the variable in the equation is the quality of wiring at the testing location. New power line units at least don't have too many problems with power boards, although Belkin's own notes do state that you shouldn't plug it into a surge protected board. Given the heavy "AV" branding on the box, we can't help but think that most home AV set-ups will feature surge protected boards heavily. For what it's worth, in our testing, we didn't encounter any different data rates through a surge protected board, but your experiences may vary.

In our test environment, 200Mbps power line equipment hasn't historically fared that well. Rather like 802.11n, there seems to be a lot more hype than throughput, with even our best performers to date — Netcomm's now discontinued NP200AV Homeplugs only managing an average of 40Mbps through household wiring. We configured the Belkin plugs in the same way and ran the same basic throughput tests, which gave us an average of 35Mbps. That's still a long way off 200Mbps, although similar to other Homeplugs we've tested in the past, the one thing that the Powerline AV Networking Adapters' managed was consistency. Where wireless networks tend to oscillate around a data point, in our test environment we got clean and consistent throughput. This does make them more suitable for AV tasks such as video streaming.

There's still a solid place for Ethernet over power solutions, especially where wireless performs badly and it's not viable to run actual Ethernet cabling. Belkin's solution does marry attractive design with reliable throughput, but still falls at the hurdle of living up to its own self-imposed hype.