Western Digital WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit Reviewed

Western Digital WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit Reviewed

Streaming media is definitely the future, but Ethernet connections aren't always readily available. However, power outlets are. Western Digital has come up with a unique product to take and advantage of this. Andrew Robinson evaluates how well it does.

Western_Digital_WD_Livewire_Powerline_AV_Network_Kit.jpgStreaming media, whether it be music, photographs or movies, is a big deal and arguably the future of all home entertainment. While many products are now Wi-Fi enabled the best way of connecting to one’s home network or the Internet is still via a hardwired connection. The problem with a hardwired connection is there’s not always a viable way to connect one’s home entertainment system or devices to their router -either because the router is located in another room or the home in question doesn’t have any form of structured wiring. For many of us this has lead to creative solutions, whereby we’re often forced to route long runs of Ethernet cable about the house and hide them either under rugs, behind furniture or the like. What if there was a better way, one that took advantage of structured wiring available in every home -your AC power.

Additional Resources
• Read reviews for streaming media players in our Media Server Review section.
• See reviews in our AC Power Products review section.
• Learn more about streaming media players and apps.

Western Digital, makers of computer peripherals and hard drives, have developed a product in the WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit (WD Livewire) that enables you to expand your wired network connection throughout your house via the use of your AC power lines. WD Livewire kit retails for $79.99 and consists of two network adapters with four ports each, which allows you to connect up to eight network devices. The WD Livewire adapter itself is small, occupying roughly the same footprint as a single gang power receptacle though it’s not flat, nor is it designed to be mounted on a wall. The WD Livewire adapter measures a touch over three inches wide by four and a half inches tall and one and a quarter inches deep. It’s lightweight at less than half a pound. The front of the WD Livewire adaptor is Spartan to say the least, possessing only six green LED lights, four indicating the number of active connections, one indicating signal and the last indicating power. The right side of the WD Livewire adaptor is where the AC power outlet lies where as the left side houses the four Ethernet ports. The back is, oddly enough, blank.

The kit comes with two adaptors, two Ethernet cables, two power cables, a quick install guide and CD. The WD Livewire is HomePlug AV certified as well as IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3u compliant and is capable of streaming information up to 200 Mb/s, though Western Digital is quick to point out that network traffic, building materials etc. can all hinder or slow down data rates.

Installing the WD Livewire system in my home was as easy as one-two-three. First, I placed one of the adaptors next to my router and connected the two via the included Ethernet cable and then plugged it directly into a wall outlet. You must plug any and all WD Livewire adaptors directly into the wall versus through a power strip or surge suppressor for them to work. Next, I placed the other adaptor on one of the shelves of my equipment rack and connected it via various lengths of Ethernet cable to my Panasonic plasma, AppleTV and Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD Universal Blu-ray player. From there I plugged it into the remaining outlet I had left (whew) and turned the adaptor’s power to on. I turned the power on to the adaptor by my router and within a few seconds the two units recognized and synced with one another.

Launching my Panasonic’s Viera Tools menu indicated that a wired Internet connection was made as I was able to update the display’s firmware with ease as well as stream video content via Hulu and Netflix as a test. Music files, regardless of size or compression, were of no consequence to the WD Livewire setup. For an even greater test I streamed full DVD quality video off my NAS drive, also a Western Digital, with zero hiccups even with file sizes in excess of four and five GB. However when it came to full resolution HD quality files encoded in the .mkv file format sent from my NAS drive the WD Livewire system was incapable of passing the signal without stutter.

In certain comparisons, mainly music and firmware updates, I couldn’t detect any differences in speed between having the WD Livewire adaptors in the chain versus having any of my network capable devices connected directly to my router. However, I didn’t like seeing a 50-foot Ethernet cable running the length of my living room and across my floor in order to connect my various devices to my router, so the WD Livewire does cut down on a lot of clutter, not to mention costs. Furthermore, super long lengths of Ethernet cable, I’ve found, will set you back nearly as much as the WD Livewire kit. So if you’re looking for a low impact retrofit to your home’s lack of structured Ethernet wiring I can think of few ways, short of opening up your drywall to run CAT-5 yourself, that best the Western Digital WD Livewire AV Network Kit.

Read about the highs and lows of the WD Livewire Powerline AV network kit on Page 2.Western_Digital_WD_Livewire_Powerline_AV_Network_Kit.jpgHigh Points
• The WD Livewire Power Line AV Network Kit
performs as advertised in that it allows you to connect your household
network devices to your home network as if they were hardwired to your
router via an Ethernet cable.
• Integrating WD Livewire into your home is easy and requires practically zero technical know how.

The WD Livewire kit is robust enough, provided you have a fast enough
router, to uncompressed music files and DVD quality content.
• You can add additional zones of Ethernet connectivity simply by plugging in additional adaptors throughout your home.

Low Points

Because of its small stature and light weight the WD Livewire adaptor
is prone to tipping under the weight of its own cables and additional
Ethernet cables.
• The WD Livewire adaptors suffer from poor cable
management thanks largely to its power cord coming out one end and the
Ethernet ports another, both of which run perpendicular to the front
panel as opposed to parallel along the back panel.
• While the WD
Livewire is a great way to get music and SD content distributed
throughout your house, in my experience, it’s not robust enough to pass
an HD signal. Your results may differ but in more than a dozen tests I
couldn’t get full-quality HD content to play without stuttering.

Competition and Comparison
I
have a feeling Ethernet over AC power adaptors are going to grow in
popularity as we move closer to an all digital and streaming existence,
that being said this is my first experience with such a product so I
have little -okay nothing -to compare it to. A quick Internet search
turned up a few similar products from the likes of Netgear, though the Netgear solution doesn’t appear to be as robust as the WD
Livewire kit.

Conclusion
Many older homes like mine lack
structured wiring, which makes some modern conveniences like streaming
Internet media and content a bit more difficult, or an all together
wireless affair, which isn’t the best. Thankfully, the WD Livewire
Powerline AV Network Kit manages to get around this issue by giving you
hardwired-like connectivity via your existing AC power. For a media
server fan like myself the WD Livewire kit is a product after my own
heart, one that works largely as advertised, solves a legitimate problem
and doesn’t cost a fortune. I dig it.

Additional Resources
• Read reviews for streaming media players in our Media Server Review section.
• See reviews in our AC Power Products review section.
• Learn more about streaming media players and apps.

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