Best Wifi Extender for Streaming in 2019
The TP-Link RE200 is the best WiFi extender for improving streaming in HD or 4K on a TV in your bedroom, or if you’re live streaming on a smart phone or PC.
A mesh Wifi router is generally a better option for expanding WiFi throughout a home. But if you’re not ready to spend $200 or more for a mesh network, then the TP-Link RE200 might be just what you need.
This range extender is usually priced under $30 on Amazon, and unlike a number of extenders on the market, it won’t toll your bandwidth.
Take note that this is an AC extender, so it should be paired with an AC router. To get the most out of this range extender, make sure your streaming device operates on an AC bandwidth.
Some newer streaming devices like the Roku Premiere (which came out in 2018) do not operate on the AC bandwidth. (A Roku Streaming Stick, or any Fire TV device operate on AC bandwidth.)
If you’re a cord cutter like me, you’ll want a strong WiFi signal that can handle HD or 4K streaming on Netflix in one room, and some fast-paced gaming in another.
This review has some tips on improving WiFi signals in your home. The aim is provide a solution or two for people to expand and improve a WiFi signal using simple techniques, not technical prowess.
Over the last two years, I’ve been able to test a wide variety of WiFi systems, including range extenders, WiFi routers, power line adapters and mesh networks.
Who should buy this?
The TP-Link RE200 is a good buy if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to improve streaming in a single area of your home. Let’s say you just need a better WiFi signal for a bedroom television or an entertainment room in the basement. Picking this up for about $30 is a reliable solution, especially if you already own a dual-band router that performs well in the main part of your home.
If you’re looking for more heavy-duty uses like expanding WiFi for a series of security cameras alongside your streaming needs, then you’re better off using a mesh WiFi network. See my reviews of the Nova Whole Home Mesh Wifi system and Tenda’s MW5 mesh router.
How to Expand WiFi Coverage
Before you buy anything, you should go over this checklist to ensure your current WiFi setup is operating under the best possible conditions.
Making a few small changes to your current wireless router can improve or expand WiFi, and the quality of streaming in your bedroom or office.
1) Check Router Placement
Put your router at the center of your house. If your router is located in one corner of the house, that may be why you’re not be getting the best reception in a bedroom or home office on the opposite side of your home. Keep your router off the ground and not hidden in a closet. Sure, a router isn’t the appealing thing to look at. But a TV picture that constantly locks up while streaming Netflix or live TV is a lot worse.
2) Update Router Firmware
Believe it or not, a lot of people will buy a router, plug it in and never think about a software update again. Some models will update firmware automatically, but you shouldn’t assume that automatic software updates are happening. There are also ways to modify your router software to improve its performance. Making sure you’re up to date on the basic software is also crucial for security too.
3) Use Ethernet instead of WiFi
Give some serious consideration to whether you can hardwire your streaming device, laptop or other device to an Ethernet cord. An Ethernet connection always delivers faster Internet speeds than WiFi. Some WiFi extenders (including the TP-Link RE200) and mesh networks systems have Ethernet ports that you can use to improve speeds for streaming, gaming and surfing the web.
4) Check for QoS Settings
For a cord cutting household, being able to assign a high priority to Netflix or YouTube is a nice option to have. QoS features have been around for a while. Netgear and other top brand routers usually has a simple interface that lets you assign or tweak your Internet traffic priorities. So you can improve streaming by making a Roku or Fire TV device a priority over another Internet-needy device in your home.
How I tested TP-Link RE200
The TP-Link RE200 was set up in a 2,600 square foot condo that has three floors. I bought the TP-Link RE200 with my own money.
A number of what I call “all-on” tests was performed.
I have three TVs between two floors. For streaming devices, I use a couple of streaming devices, a Roku and a Fire TV Cube. I own a NVIDIA Shield, a couple of laptops, a desktop PC, an iPad, a few Amazon Echo devices and various other web-connected devices.
With the all-on test, I turn on all three TVs and stream in either HD or 4K HDR. I also turn on as many Internet-connect devices that I have. For purposes of testing the WiFi extender, I wanted to see if it could improve my streaming experience in a nearby room while a number of other devices were connected to my router.
These tests imitate the kind of use a home network would get with a family that includes a couple of kids. I perform these tests during daytime hours, and again at night when Internet usage in my neighborhood is at its peak.
WiFi Extender Streaming Performance
One of the biggest assets of the TP-Link RE200 is its 100 Mbps wired Ethernet port.
If you can plug in the WiFi extender fairly close to your TV, I recommend using a Ethernet connection over WiFi. If you are trying to improve WiFi for more than one device in your entertainment center, you could even pick up an inexpensive Network Switch so you can hardwire more than one device.
Even when I used the range extender without the Ethernet port, my WiFi strength remained consistent — even with 4K streaming. My router is on the top floor of the condo. When you initially set up the range extender, you should ideally have it connected close by. But once you run through the setup wizard, you can move this further out to where you need WiFi.
In my case, I moved the range extender to the lower floor next to my living room TV. Using a laptop, my WiFi signal remained at five bars while streaming in 4K HDR.
For streaming Netflix, Hulu or even live TV, you don’t need a tremendous amount of bandwidth. HD streams typically require 5 Megabits per second. With 4K HDR, Netflix recommends 25 Mbps.
WiFi Extender vs Router: Another checkup
Before you go ahead and buy a WiFi range extender, you should take a hard look at your current wireless router. The Internet signal you’re working with heavily depends on its capabilities.
Check to see if you even have a dual-band router. Having an older router and a newer dual-band Wi-Fi range extender will not make your Internet signal faster or much stronger.
If you decide to upgrade your wireless router, get a Netgear R7000. It’s a dual-band router that’s extremely fast, and optimized for HD streaming on multiple devices without lag.
The R7000 provides two separate WiFi networks – one for older 2.4GHz devices, another for 5GHz which is more ideal for HD streaming. The router automatically prioritizes bandwidth for streaming video and gaming. The 5GHz band operates up to 1300Mbps, while the 2.4GHz band runs up to 600Mbps.
Runner Up: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Desktop WiFi Range Extender
Let’s say you already have a great WiFi router, but live in a big house that needs coverage for a lot of Internet-needy devices.
If smaller WiFi extenders don’t do the trick, then get the Netgear Nighthawk WiFi range extender. It’s a more expensive solution compared to the TP-Link RE200. But this range extender is more powerful, and less expensive than a high-end WiFi mesh network from Netgear or Eero.
The Nighthawk range extender resembles a WiFi router, and one of its best features is the five Gigabit ports for connecting Smart TVs, streaming devices and game consoles. The Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 is an 801.11ac dual-band device.
Netgear says the top range for the Nighthawk is 600Mbps for the 2.4GHz band, and 1,300Mbps for 5GHz. The most impressive speeds were on the 5GHz, which typically travel shorter distances than 2.4GHz.
The EX7000 has FastLane technology to boost video streaming. FastLane allows users two choices. You can use the 2.4GHz band to connect to the extender to your devices around the house, and the 5GHz band to connect to the extender to your router. Or you can do the opposite.
One of the most attractive features on this WiFi extender is the five Gigabit ports. Having five ports is nearly as good as having a second wireless router in the house. It also makes connecting an Ethernet connection to an Amazon Fire TV or PlayStation 4 in a bedroom very easy.
My two picks here aren’t the only options to improve WiFi, but they’re two models that I feel very confident about. What do you use to shore up your Internet for streaming and gaming around the house? Tell fellow readers in the comments below. For more tips on getting rid of cable, head over to the main page of The Cord Cutting Report.
This review was originally published on Feb. 8, 2017 and has been updated with new picks.