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NETGEAR WNHDB3004 3DHD Wireless Home Theater Networking Kit

The last time I looked at a pair of 5 GHz only 802.11n AP/Bridges was the WNHDE111 / WNHDEB111, over two years ago. Back then, they were one of the few ways to add 5 GHz 802.11n capability to your wireless LAN. But NETGEAR is finally bringing to market something I've often said would be needed to provide decent wireless 720p/1080p streaming—a product designed specifically for that purpose.

The WNHDB3004 3DHD Wireless Home Theater Networking Kit will list for $259.99 when it hits store and etail shelves around the middle of next month. It consists of two WNHD3004 Wireless-N HD Home Theater Adapters in a box complete with Ethernet cables and power wall warts. The adapters will also be sold individually for $149.99 each.

My image of an application-specific HD streaming product was actually more limited than what NETGEAR has come up with in the WNHDB3004. I had the products doing nothing more than HD streaming, i.e. they couldn't be used as access points or general Wi-Fi bridges.

But what NETGEAR, with technology partner Quantenna Communications, has come up with, is actually more general purpose than what I imagined. NETGEAR has positioned the WNHDB3004 in its Home Theater offerings vs. its Wireless Range Extender / AP group. But the product can also be used as an 802.11a/n AP or bridge and will support regular ol' wireless clients with data traffic. But what lies beneath its glossy black covers has a lot more going on than in a plain old 11n AP / bridge. I'll get to that shortly, but first let's take a quick look at the product.

A disclaimer to start. The product arrived in a plain brown box, which always makes me ask the vendor to clarify what was sent. NETGEAR said they sent part of a "pilot run" for a large service provider customer that was receiving the product in the plain box. I was assured that production units, which will start coming off the line at the end of this month, to hit retail in "early to mid November", will be "identical in hardware and software".

Figure 1 shows the controls, lights and ports on the front and rear panels of the WNHD3004, which are pretty straightforward and very similar to those on the WNHDE111. The front panel simply sports Power and Wireless Speed lights, the latter glowing red, yellow or green.

WNHD3004 Front and rear panels

Figure 1: WNHD3004 Front and rear panels

According to the Installation Guide, which is currently the only documentation available besides the data sheet, green indicates that the WNHD3004 is operating at the "Best speed at which this device can operate". Yellow means "Good speed, capable of doing one to two HD streams" and red, "Not a good speed. You should move the bridge to get a better speed". This is similar to the scheme NETGEAR has adopted in its latest HomePlug AV adapters.

One the rear panel are Power, Auto / AP / Bridge mode switch and four switched ports, vs. the two on the WNHDE111. But, like the WNHDE111, the WNHD3004's ports are 10/100, not Gigabit. But, never fear. Given the product's throughput performance, this was a good choice.

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