Although Sony touts built-in WiFi with the PS3, and while Microsoft and Nintendo are sure to talk about the WiFi add-ons for the Xbox 360 and Wii, sometimes there’s nothing better than an old-fashioned CAT-5 connection. Wireless Internet is undeniably convenient, and there’s of course the cachet of telling your friends your console is wireless, but really, when you’re in the middle of an online fragfest or humiliating someone’s Mii remotely, a reliable connection is the most important aspect on your mind. Unfortunately, running CAT-5 cable across the room isn’t always the sexiest solution, so WiFi access becomes the de-facto standard.
Actiontec, however, begs to differ. The long-respected hardware company has recently released the Mega Plug AV Powerline Gaming Kit, a $170 setup that provides the speed and reliability of a wired Internet connection — through electrical wiring in your house. The hardware is completely compatible with the PS3, Xbox 360, PS2 and Wii, and it also works with PCs, as it’s essentially the same product as the Mega Plug AV 200 Mbps Ethernet Adapter Kit, but in a different box with a different label.
A few months ago, we reviewed the Corinex GameNet, a similar hardware package that essentially uses the same technology. The setup process is remarkably similar as well: plug one of the two included Powerline Gaming Kit adapters into your router or modem, then into a nearby electrical outlet, followed by a repeat of the process with your console and a nearby outlet. Almost instantly, the console will start searching for an IP address, and within a few minutes you’re up and running.
The Actiontec Powerline Gaming Kit is billed as providing a connection “up to 200Mbps,” but in our testing, we got far less. Part of it could be our Internet package, but it’s also likely that the 200Mbps was achieved in a laboratory rather than a real-world setting. With that said, the download speeds we achieved with the Powerline Gaming Kit were consistently double that of our wireless connection, so there’s definitely something to be said for that trusty CAT-5 connection.
So far, the Actiontec hardware doesn’t seem all that different from Corinex’s hardware, either in setup or performance. But the minute you delve into the customization and security settings of the Powerline Gaming Kit, Actiontec starts to come into its own.
Because the hardware uses electrical wiring, there’s the very real possibility that gamers in a dorm, condo community or apartment complex could have their connection “hijacked” by other residents in the building. Granted, those connection pirates would need to have a set of the Powerline Gaming Kits plugged in if they wanted to mooch that Internet connection, but the possibility is technically there. Using the included security software, though, it’s possible to remove that possibility entirely.
Out of the box, the two adapters use a default security code to identify and communicate with one another. Using the Configuration Utility, however, gamers can change the passwords to whatever they want (make sure to apply the same password to both adapters!), thus creating a secure connection with 128-bit encryption.
This custom password option also means you can have several distinct consoles or other pieces of hardware using Powerline Gaming Kits, each with a different password so they don’t accidentally pick up the others’ signal. This can also be useful with LAN parties that have multiple consoles or PCs, both for reliability and security’s sake.
At $170, the Actiontec Mega Plug AV Powerline Gaming Kit isn’t cheap, but the ability to connect any console to the Internet using an electrical adapter that’s about the size of an AC adapter is nothing short of fantastic, particularly for those of us who live in older homes. The security options bump Actiontec’s hardware a step above Corinex’s, but really, you can’t go wrong with either one.
- Score: 9.0 (Editor’s Choice)
— Jonas Allen