Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A General Technology Rule: The Weakest Link

It's been a while since I posted some tech advice on my blog, so I decided to take a chapter from Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate Volume II and post it here. I'm hoping this changes the way people think about how they set things up because even the salesmen at your local electronics store constantly mess up systems by allowing one piece of the video, audio, or wireless chain to be weaker than the others, resulting in a downgrade of the entire system.

In Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate, I covered different cable types and what that means in terms of resolution. As a brief refresher, resolution is the number of pixels (or little dots) on a screen. It’s length x width. These can be expressed as different resolutions (480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p.) In order to achieve the maximum resolution possible, however, everything in the system must support that resolution. Let’s think of you watching a movie as a chain of events. In order to watch a movie in 1080p (roughly 2.1 million pixels), you’ll need the following:
-A blu-ray disc
-A blu-ray player
-A TV that supports 1080p
-An HDMI cable connected from the blu-ray player to the TV.
If I change any of the items listed above, the movie will be displayed in the lowest resolution of the items I listed. Our chain currently looks like this:
Blu-ray disc (1080p) > Blu-ray player (1080p) > HDMI cable (1080p) > 1080p TV (1080p)
Let’s say I don’t have an HDMI cable so I just use the composite cables (red, white, and yellow cables) that came in the box with the blu-ray player. Our chain now looks like this:
Blu-ray disc (1080p) > Blu-ray player (1080p) > Composite cables (480i) > 1080p TV (1080p)
That chain will result in a picture on the TV that’s 480i. I used to set up TVs for people and sometimes they bought all new equipment and no one told them to get a cable to support the high definition experience they wanted. Sometimes I would meet people who had a blu-ray player and an HDMI cable but their TV was 720p. Keep in mind that whatever the lowest resolution in your chain is, that’s what your picture is going to be.
Here’s another good example dealing with wireless internet speeds and range. A wireless internet network can be broadcast by a box called a wireless router. As technology has progressed, wireless routers have evolved through different types of wireless networks, each one having a greater range (you can be father from the router and still connect to the internet) and better speed than the wireless networks that came before it. It progressed like this (from oldest to most current):
A > B > G > N > AC
An AC wireless network currently is the fastest and has the greatest range. The thing that the salesmen in the stores didn’t seem to initially understand is that an AC router is only part of the chain. Your device has a wireless card that connects it to the router. So let’s say your laptop computer has a wireless G network card built in and you’re having issues with speed and with connecting to the internet when you’re in your backyard. If you went into the store, I know a lot of salesmen who would recommend that you buy a wireless AC router and assure you that would fix all of your problems. What they don’t understand is that:
Your laptop (wireless G) + AC wireless router (wireless AC) = wireless G
The AC router is going to operate as if it were a wireless G router, meaning you’ll get the speed and range of a wireless G network. To fix the chain above so that your network performs with AC range and speed, you would need a wireless AC USB adapter. Once you plug in a wireless AC USB adapter into a USB port on your computer and turn off your computer’s built in wireless G network card, the chain would be like this:
Your laptop with USB adapter (wireless AC) + AC wireless router (wireless AC) = wireless AC
So to break this down into its simplest terms, make sure everything you connect together in a system is capable of doing the same speed, resolution, or whatever else as all of the other components. The weakest link in your system will determine how the system performs overall. I know this sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised how many times even people who are supposed to know what they’re doing forget about one of the parts of the chain we talked about here.

For more technology advice and explanations, you can check out the two volumes in the Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate series on Amazon:
Volume I: Available in e-book, paperback, and audio book

Volume II: Available in e-book and paperback

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