X10

All posts tagged X10

Or even the 70s

“8’s The Place” promo by Carl “Uncle Zeb” Bartholomew from the late 70s/early 80s.

Our cord-cutting arsenal:

Ooma Telo internet phone device

5 TVs: LED (2), plasma, flat-tube, ’83 CRT
TiVo Roamio OTA 4-tuner DVR
TiVo Mini extender (2)
Mohu Sky 60 powered outdoor antenna
Winegard FlatWave indoor antenna (2)

Roku streaming media player (3)
Chromecast streaming media player
Blu-ray player

TiVo “Peanut” remote (3)
Logitech Harmony 890 remote
X10 universal 5-in-1 learning remote.
Smartphone

Netflix & Amazon Prime subscriptions

Windows 7 PCs / free Plex &
Emby software to serve
music/TV/movie libraries.
Windows 7 PC / free Windows
Media Center DVR with
recordings on external drive.

Raspberry Pi computer w/ free OSMC, PleXBMC, & ServerWMC software
to access content on Win 7 PCs

X10 analog video sender / receiver
Powerline network adapter (4)
Gigabit Ethernet switch (2)
Kinovo HDMI switch
Powered USB hub (2)

You may have seen the list entitled “Our cord-cutting arsenal” appearing at the bottom-right of this blog. It shows the hardware and software we use for all five of our TVs. But since you can’t tell which items are in each room, I am breaking it down by room, highlighting the hardware used in light yellow, the content in white.

I’ll start with the workout room (a guest bedroom with a Bowflex in it).

It also has a 13″ 1983 analog tube TV with an X10 video receiver attached to it. That’s it, no antenna, no digital tuner.

It gets all its programming from the den TiVo Roamio via X10 video sender.

When my wife works out, she likes to catch up on recorded “General Hospital” episodes.

Here’s her simple setup:

  • Turn on the den X10 video sender.
  • Turn on the workout room TV.

She then controls the den TiVo Roamio with the free TiVo app on her phone, enabling her to watch her recorded shows or live TV, content from Netflix and Amazon via their TiVo apps, or our own TV/movie library via the Plex app!

The quality is as good as an old analog TV can deliver (surprisingly good).

I try to keep the sender off when not in use because it jams the crowded 2.4 GHz band used by older wifi routers; see previous post Conflict between Wifi, X10 video sender. The X10 receiver is always on. The TV is always on channel 3.

The TiVo’s composite output is hooked directly to the X10 sender.

(TiVo’s HDMI output is still hooked to COMPONENT1 on the den TV, via the HDFury Gamer 2 HDMI-to-component video converter. Read more about this in a previous post, Replace the old TV?)

This higher band, greater range 5.8GHZ Wireless AV Transmitter & Receiver is currently cheaper than our X10 sender/receiver pair. Neither requires wiring, both work best with an old tube TV.

If we had the house wired for internet, we could just stick another TiVo Mini in the workout room.

But this poor man’s Mini is perfectly adequate for our low time and attention usage in that room. (I usually listen to music or the radio while I work out.)

Later note: the above arrangement may seem a bit odd, but I got an email from a reader with a similar setup, so I’m not the only one!

The other four TV rooms to follow in future posts.

(PS, This is post #100!)

My den coffee table

My den coffee table

Here is my small coffee table in the den. (I bought a couple of these probably twenty years ago from a furniture warehouse that used to be a bowling alley, Harvard Lanes.)

Harvard Lanes souvenir

Harvard Lanes souvenir

I can do quite a lot with those two devices.

First, the X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote ($15):

It has 5 main buttons: TV, VCR, CBL, SAT, and X10. If you push TV, then the rest of the buttons will control your TV. If you push VCR, you have the VCR controls, etc.

I wouldn’t inflict the following system on my wife or anyone else, but here is how I set it up for myself:

5-in-1 X10 learning remote

TV button: Selects controls for our 36″ flat tube TV. But there were enough buttons left over to teach them the Roku box’ controls as well:

REW/FF/PAUSE/PLAY do what you would expect.
A/B/C/D became Up/Right/Left/Down buttons for the Roku screen (tricky, since the built-in directional buttons are for the TV).
ENT became the Roku Select button.
REC was repurposed as the Roku Home button.

VCR and SAT buttons: Allows control of the VCR/DVD combo player (rarely used now). The VCR and DVD functions are effectively two separate devices, so the VCR button selects the VCR controls, and the SAT button selects the DVD controls.

Again, repurposing two unused buttons under SAT, I added control of a remote A|B switch for the indoor and outdoor antennas. (During bad weather, the indoor one sometimes performs better).

The CBL button now selects the controls for the TiVo Roamio OTA. The TiVo’s own remote is mostly used by my wife, and is RF (radio frequency) based. But the TiVo can also recognize IR (infrared), so that’s how the 5-in-1 is able to control it.

The X10 button lets you control X10 home automation modules around the house. The 5-in-1 remote uses radio frequency (RF) for X10. The other four main buttons of the 5-in-1 are infrared (IR) only. None of the X10 buttons can be taught different functions, probably due to being tied to the RF mode.

Since I squeezed in control of 7 different devices, it’s now a 7-in-1 remote!

Sure, I have to remember a lot of stuff, but I did document it all in the 5-in-1’s manual. I use it often enough that I rarely refer to my notes anymore. Now that’s a kludge! (Clumsy and inelegant, but effective.)

Now the phone, a rooted, wifi-only Motorola Electrify smartphone ($0):

Of the top row of apps, the first three are diagnostics for the Raspberry Pi media computer in the theater room.

The fourth one, Remote Ripple, is the app version of TightVNC. With TightVNC software running on the Windows computers, I can use the app to take over their desktops and update software, move files around, etc. Very useful!

Home theater apps on smartphone

Home theater apps on smartphone

The X10 Commander app allows me to control devices around the house over wifi on the home network. I have an X10 ActiveHome Pro Computer Interface Module USB-attached to the office computer and plugged into the AC wall socket. The computer runs the X10 Commander software, which interprets wifi signals from the app and converts them in to the control pulses sent over house wiring to X10 modules for the lights, fans and coffee maker.

The TiVo app can serve as a remote control for the TiVo. More importantly, it shows you a program guide and lets you set up recordings.

(The My Media Center app does the same function for Windows Media Center, but that is for the theater room, not the den. Yatse is a remote control for the Raspberry Pi, also in the theater room.)

The Roku app is a second remote for any of the three Roku boxes in the house.

Puffin is a browser that will play Flash-based video. This was a great discovery for me.

One thing I missed after cutting the cable TV cord was the “Morning Joe” show on msnbc (also the Saturday/Sunday morning “Up with Steve Kornacki”). Free 24/7 feeds of both CNN International and msnbc International are available on the web, but both are Flash-based. With Puffin, I can play either on the smartphone, and better yet, the Nexus 7 tablet.

(Drop me an email for the URLs if you can’t find them. I know of no equivalent web feed for Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is tight-fisted with his cable content.)

I have the TV Listings app set up to show shows a program guide for cable in Tulsa. I only use it for CNN/msnbc, and not much for them, but if you are still on cable or satellite, it could be more useful to you.

There is a Roku Highlights document link on the smartphone. This is my own Google Doc created to remind me and my wife some of all the specific shows we like that are available through various Roku channels.

These channels include Plex (all movies and TV shows on computers in our house), Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Sky News International in HD, Crackle, Shout Factory, iTunes Podcasts, Nowhere TV. I note the shows that either of us might want to watch, but that slip our mind when trying to think of something good to watch.

I am able to update this doc on the smartphone or on the computer. We don’t use this as much as I thought we would, but I still like to have it available as a comprehensive memory jog.

Under the table is a clipboard with a printout of the Roku highlights list. I add items as I think of them for future updates. Low tech is sometimes the appropriate tech.

Anyway, these two devices do it all for me in the den.

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. 😉

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.

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.