Internet and network connectivity is becoming a key feature in more and more home entertainment products--everything from TVs to Blu-ray players to audio components. But many of these products come with a big caveat: they don't include built-in support for wireless networking, or Wi-Fi.
This list of wired-only products includes such mainstream devices as TiVo, Slingbox, most entry-level Blu-ray players, many Internet-ready TVs, and the pre-2010 versions of the Xbox 360. Even pricier products such as AV receivers (including the otherwise excellent Denon AVR-1912) don't necessarily come with wireless connectivity on board. For many of these, manufacturers offer proprietary USB dongles which can cost upward of $60 or more. Others offer no Wi-Fi add-on at all.
If you end up getting a no-Wi-Fi device over the holidays, thankfully there are several solid workarounds to get your gadget on your network without dragging a cable across your living room. Even better, the first two options can potentially offer a more stable (more Ethernet-like) networking performance and you may find you connecting your Wi-Fi gadgets with an actual cable just for the increased stability.
Power-line adapters have been around for a while, but they always seem to be underappreciated. The idea is simple: instead of running separate Ethernet cabling, power line uses the existing electrical wiring system already in the walls for networking. Simply plug the adapters into outlets, connect one adapter directly to your router and the other to the device you want networked and you're set. Some models, such as the SlingLink Turbo Ethernet Bridge, offer four ports on the "destination" adapter, so you can connect multiple Ethernet-only devices in your living room.
The downside is that the power-line adapters are somewhat pricey (you need to buy at least two to make the connection), they take up an entire outlet and they can't be plugged into a power strip. Their performance also depends on the quality of your electrical wiring, so they're not going to work perfectly in every scenario (especially in older homes). That being said, we've found power-line networking to be the best Wi-Fi alternative for home theaters.
Ethernet over coax (MoCA)
If power line is underutilized, MoCA is virtually unknown. That's too bad, as it's another great Wi-Fi alternative, especially if power line doesn't work for you. The idea is similar to power-line adapters, except MoCA uses the coaxial cabling you may already have installed for cable or satellite TV. While we've personally had less experience using MoCA adapters, the Amazon user reviews for the Netgear MCAB1001 are overwhelmingly positive and it's relatively inexpensive.
A wireless bridge may be the best alternative if the gadget in question is in an area of your house that's already covered by a Wi-Fi network. A wireless bridge adapter, like the Asus WL330GE, simply "catches" the Wi-Fi signal and converts it to Ethernet, letting connect those Ethernet-only devices without a long cable run. Just note that these products often involve some elaborate setup routines (such as installing software on a nearby PC, or accessing a setup screen through a web browser) that skew towards the skillset of an advanced user. (Also notable: The Apple AirPort Express can also be configured in a bridging mode.)
If you don't have a Wi-Fi network already set up, you can use a self-contained wireless bridge kit like the Asus WL-300wE_M to make a wireless connection from a router to an Ethernet-only device. These class of devices include two Ethernet-to-wireless transceivers, but because they use a proprietary wireless connection, they're usually plug-and-play, with little or no setup required.
There are even a few home theater devices that act as wireless bridges themselves, like components of the Sonos Multi-Room Music System. Plug in one Sonos component to an existing Ethernet connection (say, in a bedroom), and that network feed can be wirelessly transmitted to products plugged into the Ethernet jacks of the secondary Sonos unit (say, a ZonePlayer 90 or ZonePlayer S5 in the living room). It's a great workaround that adds minimal clutter to your home theater setup--and some great streaming audio options, to boot.
The downsides to wireless bridge adapters are similar to downsides of Wi-Fi. Signal strength decreases with distance and physical obstacles, and wireless networks never seem to be quite as stable as wired networks. Anecedotally, some of the editors at CNET have also run into some setup issues getting wireless bridges to work, although I've had nothing but success using the Asus WL-330gE_M wireless bridge kit.
Editors' note: This story was originally published June 2, 2011.