Archives

All posts for the month January, 2015

Back in Cord-cutting status report #1, I ventured this opinion:

“But it seems to me that the single most cost-effective, option-expanding move is to wire for Ethernet. The huge increase in bandwidth should immediately benefit the Roku and Raspberry Pi in faster loading time, responsiveness and higher resolutions.”

XAV101

XAV101 Netgear Powerline adapter

That is not as clearly true for us now as it once might have been, for a couple of reasons.

One, I physically placed a Windows Media Center PC in the theater room so it could be directly connected to the Raspberry Pi computer, rather than have them connected by Ethernet. (The WMC/Pi functions as a DVR with no monthly fees.)

Two, the den (my wife’s domain) is getting a polished, ultra user-friendly DVR, the TiVo Roamio OTA ($15/mo subscription). I am also putting a Mohu Sky 60 antenna on the roof. If the Mohu/TiVo combo is satisfactory for her, we will try cutting cable TV entirely. The TiVo’s internet connection, needed for program listing updates, will also be via Powerline.

With those two moves, Ethernet wiring takes a lower priority, though it would still be nice. Instead, we use Powerline to get internet to all our devices.

Powerline (aka HomePlug) uses your house electrical wiring to connect Ethernet-ready devices.

Plug one adapter into an AC wall socket near your internet modem/router, and connect the two with an Ethernet cable. Plug the other adapter into a socket near where you need internet, then connect it to your device with another Ethernet cable. You then have a “wired” Ethernet connection over your house wiring.

Five years ago, I was in the market for a Blu-ray player with built-in Netflix for our theater room. The choice was either a player with built-in wifi, or a cheaper “networked” model (wired Ethernet only). I chose the latter. But we had no internet connection in our theater room. To make it work, I spent the savings on a pair of Powerline adapters, shown at left above.

Netgear XAV101 utility

Click to enlarge

The bandwidth (“Link Rate” on the screenshot) is not as high as with Ethernet cable, which is typically in the gigabit range (1000 megabits per second, abbreviated Mbps).

At right is a screenshot from the Netgear XAV101 Configuration Utility software.

As you can see, the adapter connected directly to internet (Device 01) has a maximum design capability of 200 Mbps. In theory, this would be more than adequate for any media we currently use.

The adapter in the theater room (Device 02), is able to achieve a bandwidth of only 55 Mbps (the rate does vary from minute to minute and hour to hour). Why so much less than the nominal 200 Mbps? It depends on the adapter’s electrical “nearness” to its mate, and noise levels in the wiring.

Our theater room appears to have been a last-minute add-on in 1978 when our house was built. I assumed from the sometimes flaky behavior of an X10 ceiling fan switch in there that the electrical path to it was a bit circuitous. (X10 is a home automation technology that also uses house wiring.) The ceiling fan problem was largely solved by plugging our refrigerator, the theater room equipment. and the den TV into X10 noise filters. (X10 and Powerline do not interfere with each other.) Still, the theater room has lower put-through with Powerline.

Our theater room Powerline (physical) bandwidth of 55 Mbps is comparable with our wifi’s design limit of 54 Mbps. But both Powerline and wifi send actual data at not even half that rate at best, so their true throughput is around 20 Mbps, tops. (Newer standards of Powerline and wifi improve on that considerably.)

But that is sufficient for most streaming. Netflix recommends a mere “5 Mbps or more for the best audio and video experience”. We have had few problems with streaming Netflix. Heck, we even downshifted last year from 15 Mbps to a 5 Mbps internet plan with the cable company, and still rarely if ever see any buffering or sub-par video.

Broadcast HDTV recordings (e.g., on a Windows Media Center PC) are another matter. They can require as much as 20 Mbps bandwidth, which is at the limits of our Powerline connection. In practice, I found that trying to play these recordings on the Pi from a Powerline-connected PC was frustratingly inconsistent. Turns out that video encoded in the MPEG-2 format, such as broadcast TV, is unforgiving of transmission errors, which makes even faster Powerline and wifi problematic. Ethernet wiring is one solution to this problem.

Another solution is to do as I did, place the PC in the theater room, and connect it to a gigabit switch with the other devices. Bandwidth limitations and transmission errors are non-existent. The Powerline adapter, plugged into the switch, provides internet access to the Blu-ray player, PC, Raspberry Pi, and a Roku 3.

I recently acquired another Powerline adapter (Device 03 above) for the den, a used Netgear XAV2001, compatible with our existing XAV101s. As you can see, it achieves a much higher physical bandwidth (100+ Mbps) than the other adapter, due to the den’s more standard electrical wiring. (Cheaper and higher bandwidth Powerline adapters are available; see the TTM Amazon Store for a couple of choices.)

Another reason I like Powerline is to keep multimedia devices off our wifi router, which operates in the same frequency band as our video sender.

Powerline is very secure. Our older model uses 128-bit AES encryption. According to EE Times, to crack it with a supercomputer brute force attack would take longer than the age of the universe. I don’t worry about the weird kids on the block (at least not over this).

Don’t get me wrong, Ethernet wiring is the ultimate in bandwidth and simplifies everything. Certainly new houses should be wired, and it might well be worth it for you to wire an existing home. But Powerline can be a good alternative to wifi, though not as fast and clean as Ethernet.

I’ll post about the TiVo after I set it up and try it out this weekend.

Griffin stations (including KOTV and KQCW) are off the Dish Network as of 4 minutes until 6 pm yesterday.

If you are trying to make sense of the conflict, an article from ADWEEK last year gives some context and history: Broadcast Group Pursues New Front in War with Pay TV

The article mentions the advocacy groups for each interest, American Television Alliance for cable/dish, and TVFreedom for broadcasters. It’s a propaganda war.

An FCC fact sheet briefly lays out the rules for retransmission consent and must-carry as set in the 1992 Cable Act: Cable Carriage of Broadcast Stations

The number of carriage disputes has sharply increased in the last several years. Certainly the conflict is all about revenue, but set against a backdrop of possible retransmission consent reform in Congress. The startup company Aereo, backed by media mogul Barry Diller, was a recent casualty by Supreme Court decision (see my recent comment about this illustrative case).

Who is right or wrong? Maybe a better question is, what kind of media landscape will evolve from any given Congressional action? Since there are no working crystal balls, each side will paint the picture that best serves its financial interests.

On a more parochial level, your options are cable, dish, satellite, internet (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube), antenna, or no TV.

“No TV” is free. Antenna has a one-time cost and is free thereafter. Internet services offer on-demand viewing at relatively low monthly cost. Cable, dish and satellite offer many realtime channels at a relatively high monthly cost.

Your decisions in this court cannot be overturned.

Perhaps this previous post will aid in your deliberations by helping you decide which TV and how much you require: Cord-cutting status report #1.

Us 3 weeks ago in Cozumel, Mexico. This morning in Tulsa, it is 8º F.

With no home theater available, I read ebooks during our cruise. Checked them out from the Tulsa library (where I volunteer 2 hours/week) and loaded them to both my rooted wifi-only smartphone and my 1st generation Nook reader. I read from the Nook during the day, the phone at night. While reading on one device, the other was charging. I also set up Gaye’s Galaxy Note II “phablet” and Nexus 7 tablet with books and magazines from the library. Saves a lot of weight in your suitcases.

My vacation reading list (I keep a virtual bookshelf on LibraryThing):

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (2006)
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink (2011)
A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child (2013)
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin (2013)
Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw (2014)
Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen (2007)
Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen (2001)
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (2012)

We also worked out every day, went on excursions like the above snorkeling trip, and a jeep tour of Cozumel (Gaye drove stick shift), relaxed on the beach and ship with tropical beverages.

I’m stuck indoors today with single-digit temperatures outside, reading the first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor, listening to Tiki music on Pandora, and drinking coffee.

Take me back to Cozumel, it’s freezing here!

Bulb in net-wrapped plastic globe under ceiling fan in Tiki room

New remote-controlled multi-mode bulb in net-wrapped globe under ceiling fan in our Tiki room.

Yesterday, I replaced the failing, years-old LED bulb in our Tiki room ceiling fan with this $17 product in the TTM Amazon Store: LJY E27 10W RGB LED Light Color Changing Lamp Bulb AC 85-265V with Remote Control.

With the netting and translucent globe I added, it looks like a Japanese glass fishing float, a popular Tiki decor item. The included remote still works even with the globe covering the bulb.

LED Color Changing Bulb w/ Remote Control

LED Color Changing Bulb w/Remote Control: $17

Our Tiki lounge

Our Tiki lounge

The IR remote selects on/off, color, and brightness. There are also 4 cycling modes, from a fast strobe to a languid pulse.

I was able to teach the commands to my Logitech Harmony remote in the adjacent theater room. Now I can change both the mood and the music from the comfort of my Laz-E-Boy.

Should you wish to do likewise, add a Home Automation/Light Controller device to your Harmony, mfr: Magic Lighting, model: E27. You will get the main buttons of the credit card-sized remote on your Harmony as custom additional (soft) buttons.

I found that I still had to teach each command (the IR codes in the Harmony database didn’t match my hardware), add a few more soft buttons, and delete several. But now I can control this light, our other X10 lights and devices, and home theater components all with the Harmony remote!

Read about Tulsa’s Tiki past on these TTM pages: Tulsa Tiki.

Visit Tiki Central to correspond with Tiki-minded people around the world.