There’s a little known saying: when you have an electrical engineer, everything looks like it should be wired. I installed our ReplayTV and its broadband connection with a surprisingly minimal effort, though it initially didn’t start out that way.
Two months ago I was trying to build a Tivo-equivalent so I could watch Star Trek: Enterprise when I wanted. I got the basic set up recording video fine, but the missing link — literally — was a way to get the signal to my TV set. The PC card had only S-video output whereas the TV and VCR only took coax(*).
I had given up on the idea until ReplayTV had a promotion where I could get the unit with a 3 year subscription at a substantial discount. The ReplayTV didn’t take a wireless card, which would have made this really easy, so in anticipation of needing a ethernet connection near my TV set, I had elaborate plans to run twisted pair from my study through the crawlspace and into the living room. I supplied myself with a 500′ spool of cat-5 cable, a hub, a signal amplifier for the cable TV, 250′ of speaker wire, plus various connectors and wall faceplates.
This had the hallmark of a project going out of control.
Fortunately, there were two differences. First, because this did not involve plumbing, I had a reasonable chance of succeeding. Second, as the project got bigger, higher cognitive skills clicked in and realized I should draw this as there might be a simpler way to do all of this. Here’s the diagram:
The cable connection comes into the house in the garage (blue line) where it goes to an array of splitters and filters. The red line, for the cable modem, snakes along the garage wall where it goes through to the study and the computer. This is where my cable modem has been for the last three years. The other three green lines are for various connectors throughout the house: bedroom, play room and living room. We have only one TV, and that’s in the living room.
The initial, complicated way I thought of doing this was to run twisted pair from the study to the living room through the walls and under the house. It gets tricky near the study because it sits atop the concrete pad the garage uses, but it’s doable with my jedi-like fish tape skills. The primary advantage is I don’t move equipment.
The easier way becomes apparent when you look at the diagram:
and realize (a) cable’s already running to the desired room, (b) we have only one TV and (c) the machine in the study can take a wireless card. I disconnected the other two feeds, moved the split to the living room, installed the wireless router on top of the TV assembly (out of sight), and popped a wireless card into the PC in the study.
Before plugging in the ReplayTV, I replaced its 40Gb disk with the 200Gb hard disk out of my Freevo project and ran the Replay TV disc copy utility. This increases recording time from 13 hours (at highest quality) to 66 hours.
I was nervous when I had to reboot the ReplayTV during the installation process, though the message boards say it’s not uncommon for the network stack to die on the installation. It was otherwise a flawless setup. The first true test came last night when we were watching the incredibly gory Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror and my daughter came down for (insert excuse here) — just hit the pause button with the knowledge we can resume later. Later, I was browsing its programming segmentation setting it up to record strange things throughout the week. My only gripe so far is the remote is pretty weak or has a very narrow beam — I have to align it very well.
*Okay we’re luddites. When we buy something, we go for the middle tier — after thoroughly considering the repair history— because we expect to use a product until it irreparably breaks. For example, our TV is over 13 years old, stereo 16 years, CD player 14 years, and the VCR 11 years old. Although I’d wanton consumer lust for one of those sexy flat screen plasma TVs you can put on the ceiling, they’re just not a priority. Besides, I don’t want to be an early adopter of HDTV.