Saturday, January 3, 2015

Living Room Antenna Move

Channel 5 sucks...  This is a phrase my wife and I were udering quite frequently.  All of our channels came in crystal clear, except for Channel 5.  It took a bunch of research and a lot of testing to get to the end destination we are at today.

The Past

We've gone through several different kinds of antennas in order to get the clear reception on Channel 5.  We started with your basic, college dorm room rabbit ears.  They worked OK, but they sat on the fireplace ledge and looked pretty amateur and ugly.  So we tried a $50 antenna from AntennaWeb.  This worked better, but still saw pixelation during rain storms and or even light breezes.  And of course the football game is on Channel 5 when all of the family is over the for holidays.  A very bad time to go down.

Then I finally came across the Antennacraft HDMS9100.  This thing is awesome.  We initially put this in our attic and it captured signal great.  Then we put the house on the market and moved it to the basement.  This is by far the worst spot for an HD antenna.  Not only did 5 not come in well, but 8 was starting to fade as well.  So the ultimate decision after deciding to stay in the house was to move the antenna to the deck outside.

The Solution

The HDMS9100 has a control unit which allows you to adjust the direction of the antenna to better suite you signal needs without having to go outside.  This control box is currently dangling in the reduced size rats nest that is the left living room cabinet.  The box is connected to the Tivo for viewing.  Then the line to the antenna goes through the cabinet floor and into the basement.

In order to move the antenna outside, I needed to make sure that a minimum amount of coaxial cable was actually outside.  This is necessary as I have had experience with rabbits/wild animals eating the sheath off my old coaxial cables hidden under the deck.  So I drilled a 2/3" hole through the foundation in the closest corner of the house.  I ran the cable through and immediately up to the deck where the antenna rests.  I filled the remaining space around the cable in the hole with Great Stuff to keep the cold and bugs and water out.

That's it!  I tuned the amplified guided antenna to Channel 5 and now everything is right as rain.  All of our channels are coming in clear, even during a massive rain/lightening storm.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Living Room Router-AP Move

We have great internet through CenturyLink.  They provide us with a 20mbps DSL connection.  For the most part it is a reliable connection and they hit their 80% speed guarantee.  My only beef is the data cap at 250GB, which we regularly bump up against.  Netflix and now HBO-GO are gas hogs.

But the router and cables in the living room media cabinet are a complete mess and I hate wire messes.  Plus our wifi signal strength is not the greatest when you're upstairs in any of the bedrooms.  So something has got to be done.

The Stage

Last year I spent some time mapping out all of the LAN network connections in the house and routed them all to the basement media closet.  We have 1 port in each of the bedrooms, 5 ports in the living room media cabinet, 1 port on the side of the living room and 2 ports in the basement.  All of these connections run into a Cat5 patch panel where they are labeled and patch cables routed into a D-Link switch.

Some of the network connections were going into the router and some were going into the switch.  It was a mess.  The picture on the left is what the networking currently looks like.

The Materials and Costs

This was a small project and even though it took me a couple of interrupted hours, it was low on the cost meter.  I only had to buy a box of nail-in cable clips to rout the cables (1x power, 1x network, 1x phone) to the floor or the phone outlet. And the other purchase was a network couple to connect the router network cable to the cable for the switch.  Total cost was under $10.

A Better Network

Here is what I did to fix this mess.  I pulled the router out of the cabinet, dusted it off with an air can and mounted it to wall just below the curtain rack of the back door so that the router will be mostly covered by drapes.  However, I basically burned what little WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) points I had since its another piece of equipment showing and it is very visible with its huge antennas.  Eventually when I have a bunch of money to blow, I would like to move the router to the basement, disable the wifi and put up a professional access point in its place in the living room.  I'll earn back some WAF with other projects in the living room.

All the components that were connected directly to the router were rerouted to plug into 3 of the 5 ports I installed a couple years ago that lead to the media closet in the basement with the switch.  Then I routed a network cable from the router to the one network connection on the side of the living room that leads to the switch.  The phone line required to get internet to the router is draped over the back door and out of the way of chewing puppies.

Here are some more photos of the finished product:

The living room media cabinet is now looking a little cleaner.  This will make it a lot easier to move the components into the cabinet.  Signal strength is now maxed out when I look at all the devices we use in our bedrooms on the second floor as well as the devices in our basement.

So that's it.  Hope this inspires someone to do a similar project.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Living Room Project

Ellen, Mervin and I spend much of our time right now in the living room watching TV, playing video games, reading or even napping.  This spot is where we have our best equipment for watching media. However, in the future this is going to change once the basement project is complete.  This will become an area for family events and convenient moderate quality media consumption.

The Current Setup

The TV is the focal point of this operation.  We have a Samsung 46" (60hz, 1080p) mounted above the fireplace.  All exterior components are connected to the TV for operation.

  • A Roku3 gives us access to all our streaming services in full 1080p glory.
  • The Tivo Roamio captures and records our shows off the terrestrial antenna. 
  • A Xbox One + Kinect let's me play awesome video games and watch blu-ray movies.
  • An old DirecTV Sat-Go, that my father-in-law does not use anymore, gets us all the sports we can handle (college basketball, and football).
  • All sound runs through an old home theater in a box receiver.
We can watch just about anything here.  Everything is controlled via a HarmonyOne remote.  This is also where the our internet router / access point sits.

The Problems

While you may be able to view anything here, it is a quagmire of cables and components all over the place.  There is so much wrong with this disaster, a home theater expert should be ashamed.  The wife acceptance factor is in the basement.  Here is a whole list of issues with this room:
  • The shelf below the TV is cluttered with wires, speakers and components with reduces the amount of trinkets, pictures and dudads that Ellen can put up.
  • The cables are not well hidden.  Not only that but they pool into a couple of rats nests on the left shelf and in the cabinet.
  • The components are all out in the open on the left shelf, looking ugly and taking up precious space for more pictures.
  • The internet router is in the middle of the cable rats nest in the left cabinet where the wifi signal is getting smothered to the point of lack of signal in the upstairs bedrooms.
  • The receiver is going on 10 years old.  It often breaks connection on the optical input with the TV, resulting in explosions of static and high pitched screeching. 
  • The sound output from the 3 of 5 remaining speakers is low quality and volume low/inconsistent between different components.
  • The upgraded HD antenna is currently located in the basement.  This was due to our house being on sale and not wanting to put it outside.  The signal gathering is subpar in the basement.
As you can see, there is a lot of room for improvement.

Phase 1 Projects

This room is going to get split into 2 phases: Pre-basement finish (Phase 1) and Post-basement finish (Phase 2).  Phase 1 is really just to tighten up the room until we get to Phase 2.  Here are the changes we are going to make in Phase 1:
  1. Antenna Move - The HD antenna is going to get moved from the basement to an outside position that allows us to capture all of the channels, even the lowest UHF ones.
  2. Internet/AP Router Move - Since I have all the network connections terminating in the basement now, I can move the router to a spot that better covers the house with wifi, a spot that is not in the middle of a cable cloud.
  3. Components Move - The Roku3, Tivo, DTV and Xbox One are all going to move down into the left-hand cabinet.  I have an IR repeater/blaster that works well with the HarmonyOne remote.  The Kinect is going to head off to E-Bay.  I don't ever use it and I don't play any games that require it.  The cable is short so it won't reach if the Xbox is in the cabinet.
  4. Receiver Replacement - The old 5 DVD disc receiver is out and will get replaced with a bluetooth enabled soundbar.

Phase 2 Projects

Phase 2 projects are going to be the real upgrades.  This phase will happen in a couple of years when UHD will be more widely accepted and we will likely go crawling back to DirecTV.
  1. TV Replacement - The old 46"-er will get replaced with a 55" (120hz, UHD, HDMI 2.1) TV
  2. DirecTV Upgrade - The Tivo has really done a great job, but we will swap that and the Sat-Go for a Mini-DirecTV receiver.  It will be slave connected to a DirecTV Genie in the basement media closet.
  3. Xbox One Move - The Xbox will be moved down to the basement where the best media consumption experience will be.
These projects will happen at various points over the next 2 years.  Technologies and budgets will change of course, so the scope and timeline will change at some point.  Ask projects get accomplished and I write up blog posts, the words highlighted in red will turn to links to those respective blog posts.

Peace out girl scout.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Building a Better Home

My name is Ben Wade and I am the family IT guy.  I'm really ok with title/burden.  I get to help set up the occasional new TV, or de-virus grandma's laptop or get uncle Joe's DirecTV working again.  I think its fun and part of it is nice to get that recognition for people.

I live with my wife Ellen and my dog Mervin in central Iowa and we have decided to stay in our house after 6 years of mulling around whether or not to move.  Actually the housing market made it a pretty easy decision.  After listing for 3 months and only getting 3 showings, it was abundantly clear that no one wanted to buy a house in the last quarter of 2014.  So instead of just talking about leaving, we decided to lean into it and make the most out of this house.

There are some big projects that we envision for the house over the next couple years.

  • Remodeling the basement
  • Remodeling the kitchen
  • swapping the wood privacy for a chain link 
  • A new deck and shed
Our objective is the improve the house into a higher sales bracket for the next time we want to sell.  But really what I think will be interesting, and what I plan on putting in this blog, are the projects that build intelligence and convenience into our home.  I have several major project areas that dearly need upgrades.

The Living Room

Right now this is the area we spend the most time in.  This is where we watch all of our TV, movies, play video games or read.  However, once the basement is finished, this is going to become more of a casually used room where we might watch for dinner and large get-togethers, but really much time will be spent on the basement.  So we're not looking to put a lot of money here, just doing some small modifications like moving the components to the cabinet, hiding the wiring and swapping out the old 5.1 theater in a box with a sound bar.

The Basement

We have big dreams for this year.  Our goal for this room is to create a home theater hidden in a home library.  My wife and I love to read as well as watch a good movie, so what better place to combine both activities.  We'll install a large screen UHD TV, with 7.1 surround sound (maybe even a Dolby Atmos setup), that's hidden within the walls covered by shelves full of books.

Components will be stored under the stairs along with the home server.  The Xbox will come down here for my video gaming needs.  And I think eventually, I will cave and come back to DirecTV with a whole home DVR setup again (bad experience the first time that ended in me quitting their service).

Ellen and I love to cycle as well and in the winter we put our bikes on trainers so we can watch The Sufferfest.  So we'll be setting up ways to incorporate that into the basement.

The Master Bedroom

This is our fortress of solitude, and the one spot that Ellen has full domain over.  Which means electronics all not the focal point and everything must meet the wife acceptance factor.  We're going to around the electronics so they are less in the way, some lighting for different moods and some enhanced sound for rocking out while getting ready for the day.

Home Automation

Home automation has come a long way.  When I first started checking this stuff out in 2008, you had to have all kinds of expensive software and computers and the selection of devices was limited.  Now you can get a small hub that controls all devices from outlets and switches to door locks, garage doors and the thermostat all from the convenience of your phone/tablet.

The plan is to wire up the house for:
  • Internet connected thermostat, front door lock and garage doors
  • Lighting scenes and timers
So this is some of the fun we are going to get into.  I'll get into detailed plans later.

Peace G-Shock.