10 great Wi-Fi gadgets for work and play

Add these Wi-Fi devices to your network for a new world of wireless productivity and entertainment

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Wi-Fi photo frame: Bottomless pit of snapshots

PF Digital eStarling WPF-388B digital photo frame

If you're like me, you have thousands of digital photos just sitting around on your computer. That's where PF Digital's $250 eStarling WPF-388B digital photo frame comes in, setting them free so they can be viewed in any room you want via an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi link.

Although the original eStarling frame released in 2006 had some infamous defects, the current model has ironed out the kinks. Built around a black plastic frame with clear edges, the eStarling's 8-in. LCD seems to float in air as it displays up to 256MB worth of pictures. The 800-by-600 resolution is a little skimpy, particularly for 8- and 10-megapixel images, but the device downsizes the images to fit. Downsized images look excellent, with no jaggies, snow or artifacts.

Wi-Fi gadgets -- eStarling Wi-Fi photo frame
eStarling Wi-Fi photo frame. Click to view larger image.

The frame comes with a tiny remote control that lets you adjust the timing of the slide show and choose from six transitions, including a dissolve and various wipes.

After plugging in the frame, I connected it to my PC with the included USB cable so that I didn't have to use the frame's screen and buttons for entering my network's security key. It was all connected in about 5 minutes. The frame has a range of 100 feet from the router, but annoyingly takes a couple of minutes to start displaying the images.

Rather than lifting the photos from your PC, the frame works with PF Digital's SeeFrame online picture service, which provides unlimited free storage. You can e-mail shots one at a time or upload them in groups directly to the site. The frame also works with nine other online photo services, including Flickr and Picasa, as well as RSS image feeds. All told, it's a great way to get photos out of your PC and into your living space.

Wi-Fi security camera: Something to watch over me

Wi-Fi gadgets -- Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera
Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera. Click to view larger image.
Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera

A wireless network offers a great opportunity to set up surveillance cameras that watch over your home or office without the hassle and expense of running video cables throughout the building. The $250 Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera goes a step further than static cameras by letting you pan and zoom it remotely.

Setting it up took about 10 minutes. I started by plugging the camera into my router with an Ethernet cable and running the included CD on my computer. After that, a wizard took over and found the camera on the third try. I had to enter the camera's IP address on my computer to access the camera's setup screens and enter the network's encryption code. Finally, I disconnected the Ethernet cable and the camera was on its own; it connected with my Wi-Fi network on the first try.

The interface, which works with PCs only, can handle four separate video feeds over an 802.11b/g link. With it, I can remotely watch the scene, pan the camera side-to-side and up-and-down, and zoom in on a detail. There's an annoying one- or two-second delay between clicking on an action and the camera carrying it out, and you can hear the device's servo motors positioning the camera. The 640-by-480 video stream is surprisingly clear and detailed, although the video gets choppy when the camera gets about 90 feet away from the router.

I really like that the PTZ Internet Camera has a removable antenna that can be swapped for a more powerful one, potentially extending its range. After sensing motion in its field of view, the camera can take a snapshot, record video and then alert me via an e-mail, making it a burglar alarm that can capture evidence at the scene of the crime.

Wi-Fi Media Center extender: HDTV everywhere

HP MediaSmart Connect x280n
Wi-Fi gadgets -- HP MediaSmart Connect x280n

HP MediaSmart Connect x280n.

Click to view larger image.

Here's my digital dilemma: My Windows Media Center PC is in the office, but the family's HDTV is at the other end of the house. So I used HP's MediaSmart Connect x280n to bring the two together. Now I can surf the Web, watch online videos and listen to Internet radio on my TV. At $350, the x280n can inexpensively transform a TV into an online powerhouse.

Although the device works with 802.11a/b/g/n networks, HP suggests that only dual-band 802.11n routers have the throughput to reliably send high-definition video over a wireless link. My elderly 802.11g router obviously wasn't up to the task, so I swapped in a Linksys WRT600N 802.11n router.

Be prepared to set aside a couple of hours from start to finish, and be ready to go back and forth between the Media Center PC and TV several times to configure them. After going upstairs to connect the media extender to my Westinghouse 1080p TV and enter the network's encryption codes with the remote control, I went back downstairs to my HP HDX 9000 Media Center PC and installed the needed software, then back upstairs to make a few clicks and write down a special code. Finally, I went back downstairs to finish up by entering the TV's code on the PC.

Happily, this is a one-time setup chore, and the media extender's remote control allows efficient entry for the network's encryption codes. Once it was all connected and online, I watched movies on Cinema Now and Vongo, viewed pictures from the PC and watched shows I recorded on the Media Center PC -- all of which came through surprisingly well, with no jerkiness, delays or hiccups.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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