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Do You Really Need an Expensive Wireless Router?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you've been oblivious to changes in the router world, attractive new technology recently hit the market.

But do you stream heavy high-definition video to your living room? If not, you may not need to spring for the latest -- and most expensive -- routers.

A wireless router's job is to share the home's Internet service with every wired and wireless gadget in the house. Bells and whistles will cost extra.

The latest technology can be pricey. The newest AC routers, for example, cost at least $150.

Sometimes, though, you're just paying extra for a name or reputation. Apple's (AAPL) AirPort Extreme Base Station, which lacks the latest Wi-Fi technology, costs $179.

Anything from a simplified setup to the fastest speeds available will cost you. Need to prioritize devices (like a gaming device that can't afford lags)? Don't want to watch a high-def video stream in spurts? Those features will cost a bit extra.

But for those who'd rather not spend more than $30 or $50 for a home router, the good news is that features that once cost a premium are included in basic models.

Wi-Fi Protected Access II, or WPA2, is still one of the best ways to secure the home network, and it's pretty much standard on all routers (higher-priced ones may offer easier configuration).

And don't count out older models. Some of the current best-selling Wireless N routers, which have been out for three years, are a steal, at less than $40. (See this article if you have an older router: "Prolonging the Life of a Wireless Router.")

If you're new to routers or your current router just died (see "When the Home's Most Important Internet Device Fails"), the best way to figure out whether you would benefit from splurging is to ask yourself whether you'd use the added features of the higher-priced routers offer:

802.11ac: This is the latest and greatest, promising wireless speeds so fast that streaming high-definition video to your HDTV will be a pleasant -- and watchable -- experience.

This wireless-gigabit technology is so new, the engineers working on the technical standard have yet to finalize AC, which is expected in 2013. But manufacturers have already jumped ahead to offer "draft AC" products, and the latest is out this week from Cisco's (CSCO) Linksys division.

Don't count out AC's "pending" status if you're in the market for a new router. This happened before with Wi-Fi technologies of G and N. For the most part, those "draft" routers required only software updates. Price of AC routers: $150 and up.

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