Friday, November 19, 2010

One Box To Rule Them All

For years I have wanted and worked towards a wired home. I want to have music, video, photos, internet, and other types of data available in all rooms at all times, but I didn't want a computer in every room, nor do I want to - nor can I - spend thousands on some high-tech, off-the-shelf system that is operated by sleek, wireless touch pads like something out of a James Bond movie.

So I pulled wires for cable TV, internet, and phone in to 7 rooms of the house. The confluence of all of the cables is in a cabinet in the butler's pantry where it all meets in a Steren home networking box. This was a good start. The router in there is wireless N, but I've found that connection rates drop by as much as 50% just 2 rooms away, so all of the wires are worth it in my opinion.

Next, for $199 I plugged an HP Media Vault in to the router. This is an NAS with Media Server, for the techno-savey out there. For others, think tiny computer with no keyboard, monitor, or mouse and just one button on the front. The HP Media Vault works as a file server, media streamer, and as a print server for the printer that is plugged in to it. This is all located in the same cabinet as the Steren box. It is pretty much idiot proof and works great. There is little or no configuration. Just plug everything in and turn it on. Anything I put on the Media Vault is available to any computer in the house and any computer in the house can print to the printer plugged in to it Media Vault.

Next, I installed a $50 TV card in to my PC. This allowed me to record TV in the same way Tivo or a DVR would. The software downloads program guides from the cable company and it is just a matter of clicking on a show to record it. You can set it up to record the same show every night or week. The shows are recorded to the Media Vault. Along with all of my photos, and CDs I ripped, the Media Vault now has all of my media and documents. I hate Suddenlink cable and shudder at the thought of giving them more than the $23 I pay for their service now, so I don't get a DVR from them. I'm half tempted to get an HD antenna and dump Suddenlink altogether.

Now I needed something to bring it all together. I don't mind laying in bed with the netbook propped on my chest to watch a TV show, but that would never cut it for the parlor.

I briefly looked at Google TV, but it kind of seems like it is Not Ready For Prime Time. Even if I went that way, I'm not sure it would have accomplished everything I wanted. What I ended up buying was a Sony Playstation 3 for $299. Who would have thought a game console would have been the key to bringing everything together in the parlor.

Here is a list of what the PS3 will do:

  • Play music CDs
  • Play DVDs
  • Play Blue Ray discs
  • Built in web browser
  • Stream TV and movies off Netflix
  • Stream TV off Hulu
  • Stream recorded movies off the Media Vault
  • Stream recorded TV off the Media Vault
  • Stream music ripped from CDs off the Media Vault
  • View photos off the Media Vault

All of that and it is actually smaller than the DVD player it replaced! If that weren't enough, the remote is wireless, not infrared, so you don't need to point at the TV, and it recharges when it is plugged in to the console, so you never need to replace batteries!

Oh, and apparently the PS3 will also play video games, but I haven't gotten that far yet. Don't own any video games, not a problem. You can download them from the PS3 store that is accessed through the console. There are free demos of a lot of the games, too. This is probably starting to read like a paid endorsement for the Sony® PlayStation® 3. I wish it was, because I could use the money, but it isn't. The PS3 really does all of that and it does it well. I think what impressed me the most was how fast the system comes up. It is minor, but this is something that has always bothered me about my DVD player. After pushing the On button I had to wait close to 20 seconds for the tray to slide open. What the hell is it doing in all of that time?!?!

The Netflix app is really impressive. I'm amazed at the quality of the picture. For $9.99 a month I can stream what I want and get DVDs in the mail, which are ordered through the PS3! When streaming TV there is a momentary laps in quality in the first 10 seconds and then after that the quality is as good or better than live TV. I have low-end DSL from At&T for $19.99 a month. If I upped the service from AT&T, that first 10 seconds would probably improve, but that's probably not going to happen.

So, I'm not a gamer, I own no video games, but I own a PS3 and I love it! Go figure.


dave said...

Interesting post, thank you! Does the PS3 have a USB port? I sometimes download university class sessions to a USB stick and can play them on my DVD player that has a USB port. I would probably get the most use that way. Im also considering setting up a linux box similar... like with Boxee (free) and stream stuff that way. I think they have Hulu, but not Netflix yet. Will have to research, but great article to get us thinking!

Thanks! 1916home

Greg said...

Yes, there are 2 USB ports on the front and it does have file copy capabilities, which I have not used. When ever I chose to view meta data about movies, photos there is a "Copy" option, and I've read that you can copy old game data if you have an older PS model.

I used one of the USB ports to plug in a keyboard when I was signing up for Netflix. It also has Bluetooth. The controller is Bluetooth, but I'm not sure if it will recognize other Bluetooth devices, like a wireless keyboard.

Also, the Media Vault is running a Linux kernel. The model I bought comes with a 300 gb hd, but there is a slide out tray on the front that will accept a second 3.5 inch SATA HD. It could be set up as a RAID array, too.

Suddenlink Help said...

Hi Greg - My name is Tina and I am with Suddenlink. Sounds like you've got a great set up going there - I hope to have a similar set up someday :) In regards to your comment regarding your Suddenlink service, is there anything I can do to help? If so, please feel free to contact me directly at tina-AT-suddenlink-DOT-com. Thanks!

Greg said...

I'm not sure if you can help with this, but 7 years ago when it was Cox Cable I paid $10.25 a month for more channels that I now pay, which is #23.50 a month.

Also, can you do anything about those annoying "Easy is/Hard is" commercials. I don't want to appear that I am picking on SuddenLink, but I have never had a commercial make me want to turn off my TV before. Mute the sound or change the channel, sure, but when those come on I want to turn off the TV and leave the room.


Jesse said...

Hi Greg you have not posted in a while I hope you are OK. I love reading about your house.


Greg said...

'Tis the season. It seems I busy with everything but a house project these days.