Amped Wireless REC10 Compact High-Power Wi-Fi Range Extender Page 3

Firing up the Oppo also proved elucidating. The Blu-ray player’s Wi-Fi signal strength meter (yet again, using whatever scale or reference is inherent in the Oppo firmware) showed the unenhanced Linksys network delivering 41% signal strength to the Oppo’s outboard USB Wi-Fi dongle. But it measured signal strength for the extended REC10 network as anything from 71 percent to as much as 90 percent at various times during my testing!

The Vudu throughput tests further hinted at what proved to be a notable improvement in performance that became evident later in my streaming sessions. Without the REC10, Vudu network testing actually proved impossible, at least at the time I tried to conduct the test. Repeated attempts to run it resulted in the same error message: “Testing Incomplete: Speed Testing could not be completed due to network problems. Please test again.” Switching over to the the extended REC10 network resulted in several successful tests showing about 5.5 megabits per second speed on a scale that maxes out at 9.0 mbps. Anything above 4.5 mbps is considered good enough for streaming HDX—Vudu’s full resolution 1080p service. Needless to say, upon seeing this, I was anxious to see how the REC10 would affect the day-to-day streaming experience.

Real-World Streaming
My real-world evaluations involved several tests applied to both the unenhanced and the extended network. The first thing I checked was the load time of the Oppo’s Vudu app on each. Upon booting up the app, there’s usually a delay while it connects to the service, then loads the home screen with the latest movie selections. Once the app was loaded, I timed the period it took to buffer and begin playing a couple of free 2-minute previews that Vudu offers for most movies, arbitrarily selecting White House Down, and Ironman3, and opting for the full HDX resolution as my default. I also watched a trailer for the latest Thor installment. Along with timing how long it took each preview to load, I subjectively looked for differences in image quality.

Right off the bat, I registered clear differences in the load time required for the Vudu app to come up to its home screen. With the straight router, the app initially failed to load at all, but on the second attempt and additional attempts I timed approximately 35-36 seconds from the moment I hit the select button to when the Vudu home screen was fully loaded and ready for navigation. By comparison, the REC10 extended network loaded in about 19 or 20 seconds—nearly twice as fast. Promising, indeed.

As I moved on to the trailer for Thor: The Dark World, I wasn’t surprised to find that Vudu couldn’t even load the HDX version from the unassisted network. After 35 seconds of Vudu’s busy icon spinning around, an error message popped up: “Your network speed is insufficient for uninterrupted playback at this quality. We recommend you select a lower quality to continue watching.” As long as I continued to let it run, the same message popped up every 30 seconds until I or the system finally aborted. I encountered the same issue with both the 720p and 480p versions as well; they just never played.

I moved on to the 2 minute preview of White House Down and had better luck. Selecting the HDX option, I watched the preview begin playing 21 seconds after initiating the load. It played at what appeared to be good video quality up till the 1:50 mark, then stopped to buffer the remainder of the preview. The picture never came back, only a “network error…try again later” flag. The 720p version took the same amount of time to load (22 seconds) and played this time to the end of the 2:36 preview, albeit with somewhat disappointing image quality on a 60-inch Panasonic ST60 series plasma, evident as a less detailed and slightly more blocky picture.

The pattern was similar for the Ironman3 preview. The unassisted network wouldn’t play the HDX at all, but the 720p version loaded and began playing in 21 seconds, then kept going to the end of the preview at 2:34. Again, the 720p quality had a slightly soft and noticeably blocky quality, with aliasing (jaggies) evident on the comic-like “Marvel” credit that appears early in the film. Clearly, the most I was getting out of Vudu from my existing network before the booster was 720p, and not without buffering and artifacts.

After this experience, switching over to the extended REC10 network was like unleashing a tiger. Along with the Vudu app loading nearly twice as quickly, all three of my HDX test clips loaded super fast—each in about 6 seconds, vs the 20 or 21 seconds it took to load HDX or 720p HD with the unaided network. They all played through to the end with no buffering, and the video quality was extremely clean and detailed, with noticeably fewer jaggies on diagonal lines and little evidence of block artifacts. Once I was on the new enhanced network, I went back and played the clips at 720p as well, and while I suspect most of the differences between the HDX 1080p and HD720p playback could be attributed to the native signal resolutions and the display’s handling of the required 720p to 1080p upconversion, I definitely saw subtle improvements in both detail and motion with the 720p delivered by the REC10 versus the unaided network.

Saved By The Bits
Short of installing a new 802.11n router and checking its performance against my REC10-assisted 802.11g model, it’s hard to know if the $70 I might have spent on the REC10 would have been better invested in a new router. Also, I can’t say whether you or anyone else will get the same results with the REC10 that I did, thanks to the vagaries in distances, obstructions, RF interference and other Wi-Fi variables that affect different homes. Nonetheless, the REC10’s excellent performance in my real-world evaluation was undeniable. It took an aging Wi-Fi router that was virtually unusable for video streaming in my media room and, with a bare minimum of effort, turned it into a robust wireless network that had no trouble streaming full HD 1080p content with essentially no sacrifice in image quality or buffering, even on the full length movies. I can imagine thousands of families facing the same situation when they bring home their new Internet-connected HDTVs, Blu-ray players, or tablets. For many of them, this compact, easily installed, and conveniently hidden little box may be just what the doctor ordered.

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