How to Setup a Wireless Stereo System at Home

One of the nice features provided by Bluetooth technology is its ability to stream music wirelessly to speakers, headphones and earbuds. While the sound quality suffers compared to a high-end stereo system playing vinyl or an advanced audio format like SACD or DVD-Audio, it works well enough with compressed formats like MP3 or AAC. The added convenience of wireless means you can listen to your music library anywhere in your house.

With that in mind, let’s look more closely at putting together a wireless stereo system at home. Setup is a breeze when working with Bluetooth.


Shopping for a Bluetooth Speaker

The market for Bluetooth speakers has exploded over the last few years, driven by the growth in smartphones and tablet computers able to store and stream your music library. If you have the time, make it a point to visit your local brick and mortar retailer to try out the speakers with your own ears. Just like the halcyon days of “old-school” stereo stores, you need to hear their sound quality in person, as speaker preference is a very subjective matter.

One piece of advice is to stay away from the Beats brand, as they are known for poor sound quality relative to their price, especially considering their headphones.

When auditioning Bluetooth speakers, pay close attention to their bass response, as well as their support for two channel audio — stereo still being superior to mono. Other notable features include support for battery power and the ability to operate as a speakerphone when paired with a smartphone. Some speakers even remember the last few devices they were paired with, making it easier to switch between multiple Bluetooth transmitters.

DLNA is Another Option for Streaming Wireless Music

Many smartphones, tablets, Blu-Ray players, smart TVs and AV receivers support DLNA technology. This allows you to connect a DLNA-compatible hard drive hosting your music library to your wireless router and then stream that music to any compatible device in your house. If you have a high-end audio system, this generally offers superior sound quality compared to streaming to a Bluetooth speaker.

DLNA also works with video and photos, offering a convenient method of accessing different types of media on a variety of devices. You are also able to access the content of your hard drive when traveling. In this case, run a speed test to make sure your ISP is providing a high enough upload speed to support streaming — video obviously using more bandwidth than audio.

Setting up a wireless stereo system at home can be a breeze but take the time and put the effort into choosing the right Bluetooth speaker. And if you take advantage of DLNA technology you can enjoy a worthy option offering better sound quality in addition to video streaming.

Top Three Best Smart TVs for the Holidays

With more and more consumers enjoying the ease of streaming media content — movies, TV shows, videos, music — at home, it made sense for TV manufacturers to add WiFi networking capabilities to their products. These new Smart TVs seem to be ubiquitous this holiday season, with built-in support for many popular video streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu Plus.

When adding a Smart TV to your home, make sure to check your Internet speed to ensure the best possible viewing experience. With that in mind, here are the three best smart TVs that would make great Holiday gifts without breaking your budget.

Best Smart TVs for Holiday Season

The Vizio E-Series 39″ Class Full Array Smart TV for the Budget

If you are looking for an inexpensive, nearly 40″ Smart TV, check out the Vizio E-Series 39″ model. Most retailers are pricing this Vizio at around $350, providing a great chance for those on a Holiday budget to check out video streaming. CNET called the E-Series “likely the best value of 2014.”

The television’s full array LED display offers a bright picture with 1080p HD video. Support for many streaming services, including, Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and Crackle is built in. You are also able to access your social media accounts — Facebook, Twitter, and more — using the TV’s convenient collection of apps.

The Samsung LED H5203 Series 46″ Smart TV for the Big Screen

Samsung gives you the option of a larger screen, 46″ Smart TV, with a retail price slightly above $400. The LED H5203 sports a CMR rating of 120 to go with its full HD 1080p picture. The high CMR means any high-speed sports action renders smoothly on screen.

In addition to the standard collection of streaming media apps and services, this Samsung Smart TV includes the “Smart Hub” which offers an enhanced user interface for managing your streaming content and apps. If you plan on streaming most of your television content, the Samsung H5203 makes an excellent choice.

Sony’s 40″ KDL-40W600B Bravia Smart TV for the Picture Quality

If you are looking for a Sony Smart TV, check out the 40″ KDL-40W600B Bravia model, one of the best smart TVs. While it features a smaller screen than the Samsung, it offers enhanced backlighting with a unique contrast feature that promises a more realistic picture. Retailers carry this Bravia model for around $450.

All your standard media streaming services are available on the Bravia, including the Sony Entertainment Network. The TV’s PlayStation Now feature means you can play your favorite PS3 games streamed to the TV without a video game console. Now that’s cool!

So if you are in the market for a Smart TV this Holiday season, hopefully these three models piqued your interest without killing Santa’s budget!

Three Best Laptop Tablet Hybrids This Holiday Season

There remains no doubt — the introduction of the iPad popularized the tablet computer like never before. While the iPad Air 2 and similarly powerful Android tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Kindle Fire HDX, still dominate the market, a new category of laptop tablet hybrids also emerged, with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 serving as a somewhat expensive example. Considering Windows 8 itself is essentially a hybrid of desktop and mobile operating systems with differing interfaces as well, most hybrids run Windows.

These hybrids also combine the power and typing ease of a laptop with the touchscreen user interface improvements ushered in by tablets. You’ll get the power for video streaming, so make sure your ISP offers enough bandwidth. What follows is a look at the best laptop tablet hybrids that make sense on your Holiday shopping list.

The best laptop tablet hybrids feature great pricing, features, and innovation

The ASUS Transformer Book T100 – An Inexpensive Hybrid Option

ASUS’s Transformer Book T100 continues to garner accolades as an inexpensive hybrid option powered by Windows 8.1. With a retail price starting around $350, the T100 sports an easily detachable 10.1-inch touchscreen that functions perfectly as a Windows tablet. The design leverages Intel’s low-power Atom processor that promises desktop-level power with enhanced battery life.

The T100 features 2 GB of RAM, and either 32 GB or 64 GB of storage capacity; the 64 GB model retails for $399. In addition to Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office Home and Student also comes pre-installed. The included keyboard dock adds little to the T100’s weight and width when in use.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 features a Useful Rotating Hinge

Dell’s Inspiron 11 3000 is priced slightly higher than the ASUS hybrid (anywhere from $400 to $500 depending on options), and its unique rotating hinge gives you a ton of flexibility when using your hybrid. A tablet, a laptop, or even as a small video screen — the possibilities are nearly endless with the Inspiron’s 11.6-inch touchscreen.

The $479 Inspiron model sports an Intel Quad Core N3530 processor and 4 GB of RAM. An actual 500 GB hard drive offers you a better storage option than the limited solid state memory in the ASUS T100. The $399 model still offers the same RAM and hard drive, but its Dual Core processor is weaker than the N3530.


The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 works as a Premium Hybrid Solution

Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 3 is a robust option, possibly one of the the best laptop tablet hybrids, but one with a much more expensive price point compared to the Dell and ASUS models. The price of the Surface Pro 3 ranges from around $800 (a version without a keyboard) to nearly $2,000 depending primarily on the included processor and on-board storage. In fact, a version powered by an Intel i7 processor with 512 GB of storage and a detachable keyboard costs $2,099.

For that price, however, you’ll get desktop level performance with the convenience of a 12-inch touchscreen and a keyboard. Considering that the ASUS T100 comes with Office pre-installed, Microsoft might have considered offering more software on their flagship hybrid. Windows 8.1 is pre-installed, but Office is extra on the Surface Pro 3.

If you are looking for the convenience of a tablet with the power of a laptop, a hybrid is probably your best bet. Models from ASUS and Dell give you the benefits of a hybrid while still leaving you some leftover budget room for the others on your shopping list.

Net Neutrality in a Nutshell

With the President recently weighing in on Net Neutrality, this somewhat esoteric issue is now back in the news along with occasional misinterpretations and misinformation. With such a controversial and technically complex subject, basic facts can get lost amongst the political debate and pundit protest. So, what exactly is Net Neutrality and how does it affect your Internet activity or broadband speed? Let’s take a closer look at the details.

“That All Data is Created Equal”

In a nutshell, Net Neutrality means that all data on the Internet is equal, no matter its source or its original creator. This is how the Internet has always operated. ISPs provide you the bandwidth and Internet speed you pay for without any say or control of where that data originates: Netflix, Pandora, Amazon — it makes no difference.

Large telecommunication companies and ISPs have sued the FCC in recent years to challenge the principles of Net Neutrality. One main reason involves the large amount of streaming video data they transmit on their networks, most notably from Netflix. They feel they should be able to charge Netflix and other content providers more to transmit their data in an Internet “fast lane,” costs that will surely end up passed onto Netflix subscribers.


Preventing the Blocking of Content or Thwarting Fiber Network Expansion? 

Net Neutrality also means ISPs can’t block content from certain providers and websites. When a company like Comcast is both an ISP and as owner of NBC, a content provider, what is to stop them from throttling your bandwidth when you watch ABC or CBS? Net Neutrality.

ISPs feel the extra revenue earned from charging content providers for an Internet “fast lane” will allow them to expand their networks. Taxpayers through subsidies have also contributed billions to telecommunications companies to upgrade their networks. In fact, AT&T threatened to stop its investment in fiber optic network expansion if Net Neutrality rules are ultimately upheld; something met with derision from industry watchers.

Is the Internet an Information Service or a Telecommunications Service?

Another major issue in the Net Neutrality kerfuffle is whether the Internet is classified as an information service or a more regulated telecommunications service. The fact that the Internet was reclassified as an information service by the FCC in 2002, led to Verizon’s successful challenge of Net Neutrality rules. The FCC chair who made that original classification is now a cable industry lobbyist; the current FCC chair, nominated by President Obama, used to be a cable industry lobbyist.

Net Neutrality proponents obviously want the Internet reclassified as a telecommunications service. They feel this extra regulation will allow the principles of Net Neutrality to once again to guide the concept of a free Internet. Considering that many of you only have one or two options when choosing a local ISP, regulation may be ultimately necessary to prevent monopoly abuse.

So how does all this banter and brouhaha affect your daily broadband and Internet speed? If telecommunications companies are successful in instituting an Internet fast lane for video traffic, expect your Netflix subscription to increase by $5 – 10 per month, especially with Ultra HD becoming more popular. The specter of ISPs blocking content from other competing entities is another issue that may have to be solved separately from the Internet “fast lane” issue depending on how the politics play out over the next few years.

Stay tuned.

Two Easy Solutions to Prevent Streaming Media Buffering

The scenario is common in this Internet age. The family gets together to watch the latest movie on Netflix, only to have the viewing experience spoiled by video buffering and stuttering. You check the Internet speed at your house, and the bandwidth looks fine. So what gives?

Well, the problem might be with your home network. After looking at your router management software you see that everyone has their smartphone, tablet, and laptop simultaneously active on the network. The Netflix movie you are watching can’t get enough bandwidth to stream properly, forcing you to deal with buffering and poor video resolution.

What steps can you take to optimize the performance of your home network?

Limit the Number of Devices active on your Network

An easy way to maximize bandwidth before streaming a movie or TV show is to limit the number of devices on your network. Is Billy in the basement playing Call of Duty online with his friends? Great, kick his PS4 off the router and make him finish his homework!

Remember that even if you are paying extra for a 20 Mbps Internet service, all the devices on your Home WiFi network share the same bandwidth. It is important to manage network connections for the best possible media streaming performance.

Streaming media on a tablet

Upgrade your Router to Optimize Streaming

Investing in a better router gives you more options to boost streaming performance on your WiFi network. Consider spending extra for a dual band router, as it provides a 5 GHz network with the extra bandwidth suitable for watching movies online. Devices performing normal Internet activities like email and web browsing can use the router’s 2.4 GHz network freeing up the 5 GHz band for streaming activity.

Some high-end routers allow you to optimize the wireless connection for certain devices on your network. So your media streaming devices get the extra bandwidth they need for movie watching without buffering and video stuttering. Learning how to manage your router properly pays off with better Internet performance for everyone.

Ultimately, video buffering doesn’t have to be a problem with a fast Internet connection. Make it a point to limit the number of devices on your network when streaming rich media content. Additionally, invest in a better router — preferably dual band — to give you more flexibility when managing your home network.

Building a Home WiFi Network with High Speed Internet

Considering the proliferation of devices able to access a home WiFi network — tablets, smartphones, Internet radios, video game systems, and more — building a fast network able to handle copious amounts of bandwidth is a must. Other than your Internet Service Provider, your home wireless router plays the biggest role in ensuring every device enjoys the best possible performance.

With a goal of building the best possible home network with superior high speed Internet; let’s take a closer look at the router.

A Dual Band Router makes a Great High Speed Internet Choice

Dual band routers become possible with the introduction of the 802.11n wireless standard in 2009. This router design transmits Internet data in two frequencies simultaneously: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The slower frequency is the older standard supported by most Internet capable devices, while the 5 GHz offers the extra bandwidth suitable for streaming movies and music with nary a hiccup.

When using a dual band router, your home essentially has two separate networks. Most newer devices give you the option of connecting to either network. If you are using a device for basic Internet activity like email and Internet browsing, the 2.4 GHz network works great. The 5 GHz network offers superior performance for online gaming and media streaming.


Dive into Router Management for Performance Optimization

Many high-end routers offer management software that allows you to optimize the performance of your home network. Take the time to learn this software, so you can utilize certain features for the best possible bandwidth. For example, the Linksys EA6900 dual band router supports “Beamforming” which allows it to recognize specific devices on your network and boost the wireless signal to that device as needed.

This is perfect if you encounter stuttering music or video dropouts even when an Internet speed test reveals good bandwidth. Simply tell your router to boost the signal to those devices having issues. Also, limiting the number of devices connected to the 5 GHz network on the router benefits overall performance; use that network only for gaming and media streaming.

Even with a good Internet connection, investing in a dual band router and learning how to manage it properly helps improve your home WiFi network’s overall speed and bandwidth. In a house with many devices trying to share access to the same Internet service, this is probably the best way to keep everyone happy!

Top 3 Tablets for the Holidays

With the Holiday season rapidly approaching, is there a tablet computer on your gift list? Either for friends and family — or even yourself — tablets are perfect for surfing the web and enjoying streaming media like movies and music. They are a great way to the get the most out of your high speed Internet connection.

With that in mind, here is a quick glance at three top notch tablets sure to find their way onto shopping lists for the Holidays.

The iPad Air 2 is Apple’s Most Powerful of the Tablets Yet

Trying to fight off its tablet market share lead against a wide variety of Android tablets, the iPad Air 2 definitely raises the bar for Apple. It is the flagship of Cupertino’s updated tablet collection, which also includes a new model of the iPad Mini. The Air 2 sports the fastest processor, sharpest display, and best camera of the iPad line to date.

If you choose to go with an iPad Air 2, a variety of models exist with on-board storage that varies from 16 GB to 128 GB in three different colors (silver, grey, and gold). Connectivity options include both WiFi or a combination of WiFi and Cellular service which works great when on the go. Prices for the iPad Air 2 start at $499.Great Tablets for the Holiday


Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 pairs nicely with Amazon Prime

If you already enjoy Amazon Prime and its free shipping and video streaming features, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 makes a perfect tablet option. In fact, CNET called the tablet the “standard for media consumption.” Still, some users may prefer the larger, sharper Retina display on the new iPad.

The Kindle Fire HDX also comes with a convenient Mayday feature which offers customer support at a simple finger tap — a boon for newer tablet users. At a price of $349, the unit is also cheaper than many similar tablet computers, but only includes 16 GB of storage. If you plan on doing a lot of Amazon Prime video streaming on the Fire HDX, be sure to regularly check your bandwidth with an Internet speed test.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is a Powerful Android Tablet

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series ranks near the top in the world of Android tablets. The Galaxy Tab S fits a powerful processor and sharp 8.4-inch display into a thin, lightweight package. The latest version of Android KitKat comes installed, and Android Lollipop is expected to also run smoothly on the tablet once the new OS is fully released.

If you are considering an iPad Mini, the Galaxy Tab S is worth checking out, especially if your primary uses for the tablet involve web surfing and media streaming. Still, the $374 price point for the Samsung tablet is similar to the iPad Mini, making the choice more difficult. Ultimately, the final decision may come down to your preference of iOS versus Android.

These top three tablets are all worthy purchases, sure to make a quality gift for someone — including you — for this Holiday season!

Top 4 Coffee Chains with the Fastest WiFi Bandwidth Speed

It wouldn’t be a coffee house worth its beans if it didn’t have free WiFi.  But what chain provides the best WiFi with the zippiest bandwidth speed?  If you guessed Starbucks you’d be right in terms of fastest average effective throughput. But in terms of fastest download speed, the prize went to Dunkin Donuts. We’ll save the contest on who brews the strongest latte for another day.


In honor of International Coffee Day last month, a day that actually exists, the WiFi experts at wefi released a comprehensive study crunching data from more than 45 million hotspots.  The results were based on a 30 day average of Wi-Fi speeds at each location during the month of August, 2014.  In addition to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Tullys and Panera also finished as WiFi leaders. Not surprisingly, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter drove the most data usage and Google Chrome was hands down the most popular application.   Here are a few more caffeinated factoids based on the wefi survey and further research from Time Warner Cable, the National Coffee Association and Broadcom:

  • Dunkin Donuts customers use twice as much WiFi as Starbucks customers
  • 80% of small businesses believe their customers expect free WiFi
  • 61% of Americans drink coffee every day
  • 34% drink gourmet coffee products on a daily basis
  • 39% of Americans would rather give up coffee over WiFi

wefi’s Results Compared to Some Hands On Results

In a completely unscientific study, this researcher circled a single block in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, home to three major coffee chains and a local bagel shop. Using the mobile speed test on my smartphone that allowed me to email the results for later reference, I stopped at each location just once, mid-morning on a Tuesday.  Starbucks won the prize with an impressive download speed of 10mbps.  The Coffee Bean fell far behind with 2.31mbps and Peet’s didn’t even crack 1mbps. The local bagelry did not provide free WiFi but did offer free refills on coffee so that’s where where I ended up for breakfast.

Not all coffee shop WiFi is created equal.  So if bandwidth speed is more important than your iced blended mocha be sure to compare speeds on your mobile device before visiting your local barista.

How your Internet Browser affects your broadband speed test

The Broadband Speed Test: Does Your Internet Browser Matter?

Browser Wars. In the late 1990s, the term referred to Explorer’s triumph over Navigator as the de-facto Internet browsing standard, but since 2003 it has applied to the battle between offerings like Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and yes, Internet Explorer. Each browser has its cadre of faithful users who swear by their preference and nothing else, and each one makes claims about usability and simplicity. But can any of them make your Internet connection faster?

Internet browsers affect speed test results

Browser Benefits

As reported by a recent PC Magazine article, different browsers do come with advantages. Chrome, for example, is known for its HTML5 support, effectively future-proofing it for Web app development. Firefox, meanwhile, has excellent startup time, memory use and security, while Opera can increase off-line speed with intelligent caching. Explorer, meanwhile, is what many users are familiar with but now supports WebGL and SPDY and includes excellent hardware acceleration. When it comes to a broadband speed test, however, who comes out on top?  Nobody.

Even Playing Field

Here’s the thing: While different browsers can affect the speed of webpage loading and may impact the speed of file downloads owing to firewall or security constraints, none of them can make your Internet connection faster.

If you want to improve broadband performance, start with an online speed test to make sure your connection lives up to Internet Service Provider (ISP) promises. If everything looks good but you’re not interested in upgrading, you can try using OpenDNS, compression utilities like Opera’s Turbo, or in the case of DSL connections asking your ISP to turn off interleaving, which is a type of packet error correction that can increase latency.

So go ahead, use whatever browser suits you best—they’re all on par when it comes to broadband speed.

How Does a Website Server Affect Your Bandwidth Test?

If your Internet connection isn’t living up to expectations, a bandwidth test is your first step to fixing the problem. This test calculates the maximum download and upload speed of a connection in megabytes per second  (Mbps) along with its ‘ping’, or the time it takes for your computer to transmit data and have a signal returned. This value is measured in milliseconds: The lower, the better.

Not all tests are created equal, however, and not all return the same results. Why? In part, it’s thanks to website servers—here’s how they can affect your bandwidth test.

ISP-Side Problems

The first ‘leg’ of your Internet connection relies on an ISP or Internet Service Provider. This is typically a telecommunications company that supplies cable or ADSL broadband services. Any data sent to your computer must be routed through the ISP’s server network—and could get bogged down if the network isn’t up to date or experiences a malfunction. Compare the value you’re getting from a bandwidth test against the speed promised by your ISP. If they don’t match, and if your latency is extremely high, the problem may be with your provider.

How servers impact a bandwidth test

Testing Servers

To measure your connection speed, bandwidth test sites use a network of servers. Typically, a single server is selected based on its geographical location—the closer to your home, the better the results. Some tests allow you to manually choose a server location and then run multiple tests to determine what your speed and ping look like under different conditions, while others assign a server with no option to change.

If the test you’re using consistently returns poor results, try several others and compare. Download numbers shouldn’t vary by more than 1 Mpbs—if they do, the servers of at least one speed test are either too far away or are processing too many requests at once.

How do servers affect your bandwidth test? If they’re bogged down or too far away, you may see lower numbers than expected.