Powerline

All posts tagged Powerline

TiVo Mini and new 24″ LG TV in the kitchen

From my wife’s point of view, the sweetest fruit from cord-cutting so far is the hugely upgraded setup in the kitchen with a new LG 24″ TV and a TiVo Mini. All the upgrades were financed by our savings so far from cutting the cord.

A couple of months ago, we were both hanging out with a friend in his swimming pool, and the conversation turned to cord-cutting (yes, he is actually interested in the topic).

He was playfully evangelizing to completely get out of the analog tube TV business, having recently recycled his own stock of CRT monitors, old computers, etc. I had resisted his anti-tube pitch in the past.

Nine years ago, I had set up an X10 sender/receiver pair to transmit from the den to the kitchen’s 13″ tube TV so that Gaye could watch and control her recorded “General Hospital” shows  in the kitchen while she cooked.

Since X10 is old analog technology, it looks best on a standard 4:3 aspect ratio tube TV rather than a new flatscreen. (This is due to the the fact that new digital TVs have differently-shaped pixels.)

But now, Gaye has her TiVo Roamio OTA in the den, and it’s going to stay. I reminded myself that by getting a TiVo Mini in the kitchen, we could replace the 13″ tube with a larger flatscreen.

(The 13″ had really started sucking; you had to whack it sometimes to get the sound to work and the picture had faded. Plus, the X10 fritzed out when the microwave was used, so the sound had to be muted for the duration.)

The TiVo Mini connects directly with the Roamio by Ethernet wire. Another option would have been to use MoCA (Media over Coax) adapters, but our kitchen is close enough to the den for us to use a long Ethernet cable.

Labelled with Brother P-Touch

Our labelled TiVo remotes

The Mini can play any of the DVR recordings stored on the Roamio, or show you live TV by borrowing one of the Roamio’s four tuners and sharing its antenna. Like its larger sibling, it can play Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus if you are subscribed.

New features on TiVo this year: Pandora, iHeart Radio, and great for us, Plex.

The remotes pair with their respective TiVo devices. I used our Brother P-touch label maker to keep them from getting mixed up.

By operating on radio frequency (RF), you don’t need to point them or even be in the same room as their respective TiVos. They can also control with infrared (IR) pulses like most remotes, so I am able to teach my IR-emitting X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote.

We still have the X10 setup in our workout room with a 1983 tube TV that still looks as good as it did in the 80s.

Or even the 70s

Early 80s “8’s The Place” promo on an early 80s TV.

We also recycled the 1989 tube TV in our bedroom that had gotten zapped by the lightning strike two months ago. It was replaced by a new 32″ LG TV hooked to the Winegard FlatWave amplified flat indoor antenna we already had in there.

All these improvements fell on and around our wedding anniversary.

13th wedding anniversary gifts are supposed to be lace, textiles, or furs.

Instead, I suggest a new tradition of saying it with TV. 😉

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!

emo

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.