More devices in your living room have Ethernet ports than ever before, but you can't plug them into the network if your router's in the other room. When your Wi-Fi access point is in the home office but your TiVo, Xbox, and media centre are screaming for network love under your TV in the living room, you want a wireless bridge (also known as an Ethernet converter). A wireless bridge catches your home network's Wi-Fi signal and provides ports where you can plug in wired devices near it. Let's take a look at how to wire up your living room using a wireless bridge.
Why a Wireless Bridge?
"But I can buy a wireless adaptor for my Xbox/TiVo/media center," you say. "What's this wireless bridge you're talking about?" It's true, there are Wi-Fi adaptors available for most networked living room devices these days, but the advantage of a bridge is that it's one device that can network multiple items, and it's not proprietary. That means that when you get an Xbox 360, you don't have to buy a whole other wireless adaptor to get it on the network (you just need the cable to connect it to the bridge).
A wireless bridge is more cost-efficient, too. Say you've got both a TiVo and an Xbox in your living room. Wireless adaptors for each of them to connect to your Wi-Fi network will cost you about $150, but a wireless bridge will set you back under $100, and it can support up to four devices, not just two.
How a Wireless Bridge Works
A wireless bridge is just a small box with a Wi-Fi antenna and several Ethernet ports on it. In fact, it looks just like your wireless router. The difference is that the antenna receives a Wi-Fi signal instead of broadcasts it. Then it distributes the internet love amongst all the devices that are plugged into it.
Here's a quick network diagram that displays what a home network with a wireless bridge in the living room looks like.
On the left you've got your regular home network set up with a wireless router. On the right is your living room, with the TiVo, Xbox, and media centre, all with Ethernet ports on them. You connect the under-the-TV devices to the bridge with a short length of network cable. The bridge gets those devices online by connecting them to the Wi-Fi network in the office.
Of course, once your living room devices are on your home network, you can do things like game online and copy video to your TiVo or media centre from any room in the house. You also get the benefits of a wired connection between devices in the living room. For example, if you're streaming video off your download/media computer in the living room to your gaming console (both wired to the bridge), the stable, wired connection prevents playback skippage problems that you can get on Wi-Fi connections that deal with interference.
Setting Up the Wireless Bridge
The interface for your bridge will vary depending on the brand. I happen to be using a Buffalo AirStation in my living room, so the screenshots below are from it. If you're feeling adventurous and you've got a router that supports alternate firmware, you could mod a regular Wi-Fi router into a wireless bridge. (Here's a tutorial on turning a Linksys router into a bridge with the DD-WRT firmware).
Once you've got your bridge powered up and within range of your Wi-Fi network, you've got to plug a computer into it to complete its initial configuration. Consult your bridge's user manual for how to connect to the bridge's console; with my Buffalo, you've got to manually set your computer's IP address to
22.214.171.124, and visit
http://126.96.36.199/ on the machine's web browser to set up the bridge. Most likely you'll need a username and password to log in. Check your bridge's user guide for the defaults.
Once you're logged into the bridge's configuration interface, it will look something like this:
This may look intimidating but it's pretty easy stuff, really. Here the name of my Wi-Fi network is "a1," and it is password-protected. So, on this page you simply set the access point name and password, and if all goes well, the bridge logs on. From there, it can distribute internal IP addresses to any device that gets plugged into it, like your TiVo, gaming console, or living room computer.
What kinds of cool stuff can you do with networked living room devices? Have a look at just a few options:
- Transform Your Classic Xbox into a Killer Media Center
- Stream DivX/XviD Video to Your Xbox 360
- Turn Your Windows PC into a Media Centre Powerhouse On the Cheap
- Watch Video Downloads on Your TiVo for Free
Finally, for more networking fun, check out some more of our favourite Wi-Fi boosts, tweaks, and hacks.
How do you wire up your living room over Wi-Fi? Got a network diagram of your own to share? (Hint: Use Project Draw to put one together.) Share your profound wisdom in the comments.
Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, likes to have her wired connections but eat Wi-Fi cake, too. Her weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker AU.