Forward to the Past

Posted by Steve on Sun, 10/13/2013 - 2:31pm

My very first DIY project at Brooklyn Row House was wiring the place for CAT5 ethernet. I decided to do this even before I had an inkling of what I intended to do with the place, or even where my office, bedroom and computers would eventually be located. In retrospect, if I'd guessed back then I would have been dead wrong.

Streaming media was still pretty much of a pipe dream in 1999 but I knew it was coming Real Soon and I wanted to be ready for it. I needed a wire soffit between the three floors for cables so I installed fourteen feet of 3" EMT tubing between the basement ceiling and a second floor closet. Through this I pulled six sixty-foot CAT5 cables, four lengths of four-pair phone wire, a pair of coax cables (my satellite TV at the time required one for each LUN) and a bunch of twisted-pair bell wire for a future wired alarm system. It fit but, suffice to say, I probably should have gone with 4" EMT.

The coax, phone and alarm wires were eventually enabled but a funny thing happened with the CAT5. I never used it. Their tails remain coiled, labeled and attached to nothing. What happened? Wireless got better. While wifi was definitely slower than wired ethernet, it served my needs so I tacitly abandoned my plans for ethernet ports in every room (along with beer taps and air compressor ports on every floor... seriously, I half considered those as well).

Hacker's Guide to Wireless Audio

Posted by Steve on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 4:58pm

Okay, it's not really a guide because it's peculiar to my hardware and I don't completely comprehend why it's working and I took a lot of wrong turns to get here.  But it works!

Here's some background: I work from home and I like to have music playing in the background downstairs, not in my office.  For some reason, it takes the edge off the cabin fever having music playing in another room rather than blasting in my face.  At first I did this by tuning in an FM radio station on my receiver in the living room.  Later, I switched to using one of DirecTV's music channels because they're commercial-free and genre-focused so I don't have to listen to a crappy Josh Groban song to hear a nice Derek Trucks Band track.

Last year, I discovered Spotify's streaming music service and became a huge fan -- so much so that when I was asked to install a music system in a friend's wine bar in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn I went with Spotify and a wireless-enabled laptop, which also let me program his music playlists remotely.

What I really wanted however was a way to play Spotify on my great-sounding living room home entertainment center and to be able to control it remotely from my office upstairs.  If I could do this then not only could I indulge my fickle musical tastes by choosing what's being played but I could also mute the background music during business calls (yes, I play it loud).  My HE center also plays music in the back yard, so bonus.Unknown Object

Netflix + Roku = HBO Killer?

Posted by Steve on Thu, 08/12/2010 - 12:43am

I've been very happy with DirecTV's service here but the monthly bill is like a car loan.  Or at least mine is thanks to my soup-to-nuts Platinum HD DVR package.

Over the past year I've been on a mission to trim the monthly nut.  Quitting tobacco products in May 2009 was a great start.  So was dumping my $119/month aDSL service with in December, moving this server to and installing Roadrunner at home.  Okay, I didn't really save anything with that but I got a lot more bang for the buck.

Next on the plate was my crippling monthly satellite bill.  By my reckoning, I could save at least $51/month if I dumped all my movie channels -- HBO, Cinemax, Encore, the works.  I don't watch a lot of TV but when I do it's usually a movie.  However even with ALL the movie channels it's not as though I feast on a cornucopia of video variety.  Like bad oldies radio, it seems to be the same hundred-plus movies broadcast over and over again.  Just how many times CAN you watch Step Brothers anyway?

A lot of my friends are long-time Netflix fans and many tried to convert me to their wicked ways.  But the process of logging into a web site to search for a movie, make a selection, wait a couple of days for the DVD to arrive, watch it, put it back in the envelope and drop it in a mailbox was just too freakin' much work!  I'm the kind of guy who walks around with three month old uncashed checks in my wallet.

But when I heard about Netflix On Demand, that caught my attention.  How do I bridge that movie feed to my TV?   My Sharp Aquos in the master bedroom has an ethernet port and, using a powerline LAN, I had successfully downloaded many DirecTV video-on-demand titles over the internet.

Let's hit PAUSE for a second to note that, yes, I did wire every floor in the house with CAT5 the month I moved in and, yes, I did completely gut and renovate the master bedroom and, yes, I did pull two runs of coax inside those walls for the dish.  Guess what I forgot to run?  The CAT5.   Duh.

So, it was on to Google to see what I needed to do to get Netflix on my TV.   One solution was based on an inexpensive piece of Windows software called PlayOn. It bridges the Netflix video queue as well as several other popular sites like Hulu to your local LAN and makes them compatible with  DLNA-compliant devices, like the Aquos.  But PlayOn's performance was shaky at best.   I would have to select something several times to get it to "stick" and Netflix movies were even more problematic.

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