Connect Gaming Devices To Your Network
Your new home network is certainly capable of doing heavy data lifting and acting as a conduit for all the passive entertainment you can handle. But sometimes, you need to interact with your technology and with the people around you. Hence, the emergence of networked gaming and all the new tools for game consoles to take advantage of network and Internet connections. We’ll discuss the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii game systems in terms of tapping your network to enhance their gaming capabilities, as well as ways in which you can use the consoles as media extenders on your network. Though the systems have some similarities with regard to networking, there are also important differences when choosing which system to connect or when combining the systems on a network.
Connect To Your Network
We'll start with the Xbox. Connecting an Xbox to your home network is simple. If the unit is near your network router, connect the Xbox 360's built-in Ethernet port with a CAT 5 (Category 5) network cable. A wired Ethernet connection will provide faster and more reliable connectivity than wireless technologies, so it’s a better option when feasible. If distance or physical barriers make a wired connection impractical, consider purchasing the Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter ($99.99; www.xbox.com). The adapter connects to the console’s I/O (input/output) port and taps into 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g Wi-Fi networks.
The next step is configuring the Xbox to access your network. The system automatically finds and connects to both Ethernet and unencrypted wireless networks, which is convenient for wired connections or when traveling. Any home wireless network, however, should have encryption turned on. In that situation, boot up the system, navigate to the System tab, and click Network Settings. Choose the Edit Settings option and fill in the wireless information at the bottom of the Basic Settings tab. You’ll need your network’s SSID (Service Set Identifier), security protocol, and the passcode or key. On the Apply Settings page, click Test Xbox Live to make sure you’re connected.
Connecting a PS3 or Wii involves a similar process (with an important difference in that current PS3 and Wii systems include built-in support for wireless networks). For the PS3, making a wired Ethernet connection is as simple as plugging in a cable. Making the built-in wireless connection is even easier—all you have to do is configure it. To set up either connection type, in the home menu, select Settings and choose Network Settings. Choose Internet Connection Settings, confirm that it’s OK to temporarily disrupt your connection, and select Easy from the Address Settings screen. Choose either Wired Connection or Wireless if prompted. For a wired connection, you should be able to use the default IP (Internet Protocol) and other settings, unless you have documentation to the contrary from your ISP (Internet service provider) or network administrator. For wireless connections, you can have the PS3 scan for your access point or enter your SSID (Service Set Identifier) manually (this will be necessary if you aren’t broadcasting the network name). Select your security settings, enter the required encryption key, and fill in any other additional details. You should also be able to use defaults for IP addresses and proxy settings. Select Test Connection and review the results.
The Nintendo Wii includes built-in support for 802.11g or 802.11b Wi-Fi networks, with either WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) or WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security protocols, but a wired connection requires the Wii LAN Adapter ($24.99; store.nintendo.com). The adapter links an Ethernet cable (connected to a broadband modem or network router) to your Wii’s USB port. For either connection type, configure the Wii on your network by clicking the Wii button on your console’s main menu. Click Wii Settings from the Settings screen. Scroll to the right, click the Internet button, and then choose Connection Settings. Select the first open connection (with a description of "None") and choose the connection type. For Wireless Connection, continue to either Search For An Access Point or opt for Manual Setup. Select your access point’s SSID from the list or enter its settings directly. Click OK to save and then click OK again to start an automatic connection test. To play online, simply select Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for any game supporting online play.
Connect Your A/V Components
The basics of connecting a game system to a television are outside the scope of this article, but there are some special display considerations when it comes to networked game consoles. First, remember that picture quality for games and images streamed across the network won’t be as reliable as for the discs played directly from the drive. Second, even if you don’t participate in HD (high-definition) gaming, you should use the highest-quality digital video and audio connections available. The Xbox 360 and PS3 support HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) output, which combines high-definition video and digital audio in a single cable. The Wii has component video output, which supports HD signals, even though the Wii isn’t a high-definition system.
You should also pay attention to how the game system connects to your speakers. Again, even if you don’t care about surround sound for video games, having multichannel audio will make your console’s media functions more enjoyable. And having access to interactive digital content might even make multichannel audio more appealing in general. Xbox and PS3’s HDMI connections support multichannel surround sound on the same cable with HD video. PS3 also has a built-in digital optical audio port, and Xbox’s HD A/V (audio/video) cables include digital optical ports. All the systems support traditional RCA audio (the red and white, left and right stereo cables).
The most obvious application of networked gaming is playing with or against other users across your network. You don’t need multiple consoles in the same room to play together with a networked system. In fact, you don’t even need to be on the same continent. Each of these game systems offers online resources to enhance your gaming experience and connect with other users around the world. Some of these communities also act as portals to online entertainment and media sources. However you decide to use them, these online communities make networked gaming worth the setup.
Xbox Live is Microsoft's hub for Xbox online resources. Connect from the Xbox Live tab on your system's main menu. For starters, you can connect with other Xbox Live users and play head-to-head or compare scores. You can also acquire game add-ons, system enhancements, and media teasers—sometimes free and sometimes for a fee. Additionally, Xbox Live Arcade offers over 100 titles of smaller and independent games, while the recently released Xbox Originals service lets you download complete classics directly to your console.
Xbox Live also helps turn your Xbox into an Internet media portal. Xbox Live offers a lot more than just the gaming extras we described. It's also an online media community with a massive library of HD movies, downloadable TV shows, music videos, and original programming. Comedy Central, Disney, and ESPN offer full-show and full-game downloads, often in high definition. Simply navigate to the Xbox Live tab on your system’s menu and browse the available content.
The PS3 and Wii both offer similar online communities, though with fewer nongame-related video and audio offerings. Sony’s PlayStation Network provides the standard multiplayer gaming, downloadable demos and game add-ons, and a Friends list with text and audio communication tools. Sony also offers a custom PlayStation browser for Web surfing with the PS3. Nintendo organizes online Wii offerings into “Channels” with mostly self-explanatory names, including a News Channel, Forecast Channel, and Photo Channel. The Wii Shop Channel offers gaming extras and downloadable content. On the Wii Internet Channel, you can purchase and download the Opera browser, allowing you to surf the Web and online entertainment sites with the Wii remote and an on-screen keyboard.
The latest gaming consoles vary widely in their multimedia capabilities, especially when it comes to streaming that media across your new network. We’ll talk about the Xbox 360 first, followed by the PS3 and the Wii.
The PS3 doesn't integrate with Windows’ networking and Media Center tools as well as the Xbox, but it can stream photos, audio, and video from a PC running Windows Media Player 11. PS3 also offers remote access from a PSP (PlayStation Portable), as well as Blu-ray Disc playback—making it one of the more attractive Blu-ray players on the market. The PS3’s 40GB and 80GB hard drives, in addition to USB and memory card slots, provide more than enough space to load your own video and audio files. Wii, on the other hand, offers almost nothing in the way of networked multimedia or nongame playback. Its DVD player doesn’t support regular video playback, and at press time, there were no options for adding a hard drive to the system.
Whether gaming is a casual pastime or a persistent obsession in your household, there are plenty of ways that your new home network can enhance the experience for everyone. Networked game consoles can make new games available to those with different tastes and broaden the social aspects of game competition, while bringing Internet and networked multimedia out of the den and into the family room. Just remember that everyone has to play nice together.
Article written by Gregory Anderson, Smart Computing Magazine