All posts tagged Ethernet

In the year+ I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve tried a lot of cord-cutting measures. It might be useful to review the ones that were less than totally successful.

Most of the following items could work for others; here’s why they didn’t for us (links to relevant past posts are in parentheses).

1. Mediasonic HomeWorx Digital TV Converter Box with PVR (see Eliminate a cable box)

We bought our 36″ tube HDTV new in 2002 to use with cable. It does not have a built-in TV tuner, so in order to cut the cord, we needed a converter box to get digital TV with an antenna. This particular box cost only $35, and also had the capability of recording shows on a USB drive. I delusionally dreamed this could replace the cable DVR service.

But it was simply too clunky and kludgy as a PVR (DVR) to inflict on my wife. Doing so would probably have dealt a fatal blow to my cord-cutting ambitions. So it moved to the bedroom to serve as a digital tuner only. The price was still good for that use only. I finally traded it to a friend when we replaced the bedroom TV.

2. Cheap Component-to-HDMI converter (see Replace the old TV?)

We had already cut the cord with a TiVo Roamio OTA, but were watching the 36″ tube TV using the lower quality composite input (yellow, red, & white plugs) with TiVo. That was because the TV has only composite, component and S-video inputs, rather than the HDMI needed for the best quality TiVo connection.

I ordered two different HDMI-to-component video converters in succession from Amazon, but neither worked worth a hoot. I learned that the cheapest one on the market that would totally work was the HDFury Gamer 2, and it wasn’t that cheap.

Most people would probably be better served by getting a new TV, but I wasn’t ready to tote that still-working 217 lb. TV to Best Buy for recycling (see Best Buy accepts 3 dead electronics items per day).

3. Raspberry Pi/Windows Media Center PC as DVR (see The Life of (Raspberry) Pi)

I hardly attempted to get my wife to use this; the Pi/Windows combo is not casual user friendly, and is prone to periodic hiccups of various sorts. But I’ve learned a lot from it, and WMC captures TV shows reliably in a format that can be converted to .mp4 (unlike TiVo See JJ’s comments and links below; you CAN pull videos from TiVo with the free pyTiVo program!)

If you have a PC with an HDMI output, you could plug it directly into the TV and use WMC without the Pi. But Windows 8 is the last version to support WMC, so you would be out of luck by 2023, 2020 for Windows 7 (see RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs)).

4. Roku Highlights online document (see Our post-cord-cutting TV menu)

This is a list of all the Roku channels with the content of current interest to us. It is in the form of a Google Doc, so I can look at it and update it from tablet, smartphone or browser. The idea was to remind us of all the shows we might watch, and which device or channel they’re on.

It’s fine as MY doc, not so much OURS. Gaye just doesn’t approach TV that way. I do, so I serve as the TV butler, verbally reading from the list when needed.

Since my original post, I have periodically updated the doc and added the content available via Chromecast and Raspberry Pi as well. All to aid my own memory.

5. Antenna placement (see Mohu Sky 60 antenna review & The Riddle of COZI)

(Click to enlarge)

I had the Video Revolution installer place the outdoor antenna on the highest, easternmost point of our house, in hopes of getting the best all-around signals. (He found the height daunting, but if it hadn’t been, I would have tried it myself.)

As it turned out, reception was generally very good. But a few of the higher frequency stations suffered when spring brought foliage and wind. Our street is downhill from the affected stations, so there was no way to put the antenna high enough to avoid the trees.

One other corner of our house might have had a better shot at less obstruction to the east (where a majority of network stations are for us). We don’t know. But it may well have had problems with other stations, even if it slightly improved the Coweta stations.

Ideally, I would have experimented a bit more. But due to the sheer height/steepness of our roof and the lack of attic access, that would have been difficult. With the installer’s meter running, and seeing good reception on all stations that day in March, I locked it in.

This summer, all channels have been consistently good.

6. A|B switch with set-top antenna (see Mohu Curve 50 antenna & COZI in the den)

(Also tried in the spring) The switch selected between the roof-mounted Mohu Sky 60 antenna, and the Curve 50 sitting on the TV. The idea was that when one station’s reception suffered due to the usual factors (wind, trees blocking the signal), another antenna sometimes did a better job.

In practice, it just didn’t work well enough or often enough to mess with it. Not the Curve’s fault; there was just no consistent good placement for it within the space restrictions imposed by the den TV’s location.

7. Hulu Plus (see Streaming video as cable substitute)

In short, we love Netflix, and Amazon Prime to a lesser degree, but Hulu Plus not at all. We dropped it.

After going with a TiVo Roamio OTA as our DVR, Hulu Plus would have been almost superfluous anyway.

A major key to cord-cutting success was reliably delivering daily episodes of “General Hospital” that could easily be rewound, jumped-back, and reviewed, and Hulu wasn’t it.

I found Hulu’s interface poor and the commercials annoying.

8. Powerline to connect a TiVo Mini to the TiVo host box (see The fruits of cord-cutting: new TVs, TiVo Mini, comments)

I successfully used a long Ethernet cable to connect the TiVo Mini in the kitchen to the TiVo Roamio OTA in the den, as recommended. (The other recommended way is MoCA, multimedia over coax.)

I then replaced the cable with a Powerline adapter, a way to send data packets over your house wiring (see Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring). This was an attempt to eliminate the wire.

It worked for a time, but started taking too many errors to be acceptable. I returned to the long Ethernet cable, and did the same when we added another Mini in the theater room.

A Powerline adapter effectively delivers internet access to the Roamio, and thus to the Minis too, but it isn’t quite up the job of moving the video data.

9. Finding ways to provide the cable shows my wife can’t live without (or just wants)

I was really worried about this, so I tried a number of things:

— Plex channels (see Free Plex channels = cable substitutes? and NBC/msnbc discontinuing video podcasts)

— VCRing  a lot of “Survivorman” before cutting the cable.

— Plex personal media content (see  007 24/7 on Plex Media Server) such as my wife’s favorite Sunday night shows, “Keeping Up Appearances” and “Fawlty Towers”, and Saturday fave, “The Outer Limits”. I also ripped our favorite movies from DVD for Plex.

Of those three items, only the latter proved to be of use to her.

The things that DID work will be in a future post. A high wife acceptance factor (WAF), as always, is primary.

Netgear-XAV101-utility300x245Powerline after pump off

(Above: Powerline bandwidth before/after pond pump disconnect)

As Emo Philips said in his portrayal of clumsy shop teacher Joe Earley in Weird Al’s “UHF”, “Is my face red!” (after shearing off his thumb with a table saw.)

In the just-previous post, Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring, I had attributed the lower bandwidth of the theater room Powerline adapter to “circuitous wiring”. In fact, the problem was due to an electrically noisy pond pump on the outside of the wall.

How did I discover this? Two days ago, I had a Mohu Sky 60 outdoor antenna installed on the roof by Video Revolution (more about this in a coming post). That evening, Netflix was painfully slow in the theater room. Yesterday, I noticed that even MP3 music was taking a long time to load on the Raspberry Pi in the theater room. I figured the antenna might have something to do with it, as the most recently changed element of the setup, despite the fact that it was attached only to a TV in the den.

After satisfying myself that the new antenna wasn’t the cause by disconnecting it completely, I was stumped, and started casting around for another culprit. When I finally got around to unplugging the outdoor pump, I had my Joe Earley red-faced moment. The pump had been interfering with our Powerline for years.

Not that the lowered bandwidth had been a problem. It was always adequate for our streaming media. I had no previous experience with Powerline and didn’t know how much bandwidth to expect.

I had overlooked the pump as a possible interference source because it was “out of sight, out of mind”. I will probably install an AC filter or have an electrician do it.

See the dramatic before and after “Link Rates” at the top of this post. Actually, a “before” shot yesterday would have shown only 5 Mbps for the theater room and 70 Mbps in the den.

When the temperature is higher this weekend, I’ll check to see what made the pump become even noisier than before (it’s unnecessary for the fishes’ health in cold weather, anyway).

Some might take this kind of problem as an argument for Ethernet wiring over Powerline. It probably is, but like Joe Earley (below), I will push ahead, and wait on getting the house wired until I find a more pressing need for it. At the least, it’s an education!


I made a tinfoil hat for my Roku 3...

It’s very attractive, though.

I still haven’t gotten around to having our house wired for internet. But I wanted to see how much a wired Ethernet connection (vs. wifi) would improve the performance of a Roku box.

I found a refurbished Roku 3 on sale at Woot! and picked one up. This is the top of their line, but the reason I wanted it was for the wired Ethernet connection (and a 5x faster processor). I connected it to a Windows 7 computer by gigabit switch.

The Roku 3 also boasts a remote with headphone jack for private listening, and direct cast to TV from the Roku app on your smartphone. These features were the source of a ridiculous problem. Ridiculous, because it never should have gotten out of the lab this way.

Reading taken near the other Roku in our den before tinfoil hat...

Roku 3 interferes mightily on channel 11 before tinfoil hat…

I noticed on my Wifi Analyzer app that there was a new item on our current wifi channel 11: the Roku itself. It was broadcasting on our channel, jamming it, resulting in degraded wifi performance. (see the next post for a correction to this.)

No need for any transmission at all since my connection is wired (unless you want to use the direct cast feature or headphone attached to the remote). But it turned out that I couldn’t shut wifi off. In fact the only way to stop it was to unplug the Roku 3.

I did some Googling and found that others discovered this, too. The best and most current thread is this one from Roku Forums:

Yet another Wi-Fi Direct is jamming my home network thread 

No workaround has yet been found besides a “Faraday cage”. This consists of blocking the transmission with a metal screen. Aluminum foil was mentioned as working for one poster.

After tinfoil hat.

Roku 3 still interferes on channel 11 after tinfoil hat.

So I tried it. I covered up everything I could, leaving the wires sticking out the back and a little hole for the infrared port.

As you can see at left, the Roku’s own wifi was attenuated somewhat, but not enough to stop it from interfering. (The readings were taken beside an older Roku box in the den.)

I think I will go back to the Roku LT until Roku pushes out a software or firmware update to let you turn off wifi.

Roku probably should have used Bluetooth to implement these features. Or, considering how cluttered the 2.4GHz band is, they probably should have just left the features out, or made them work only on the 5 GHz band.

(By the way, the Roku 3 on wired Ethernet connection worked well. I was trying a semi-competitor to Plex, called Media Browser. MB was able to play a Windows TV (.wtv) recording smoothly, once the puny Celeron processor in my mom’s old Win 7 computer transcoded and buffered enough of the file for it to get started.)

Bulletin for all cranks: you are going to have to do better than a tinfoil hat if you want to keep the NSA from monitoring your mind.

(See the next post for a retraction of the comments about my degraded wifi performance. But I still wish there were a capability to turn off Roku 3’s wifi.)