News, reviews and opinions from TEA London, London's exclusive bespoke custom audio visual installation specialist

TEA London News & Views



Retro-fit wired networking for your AV devices 0

Posted on November 20, 2011 by Timothy Francis

When its all connected, it’s connected

The key components in conveniently accessing your own video, photo, music libraries, as well as the cool features on your Smart TV, is a decently functioning network, with a decent Internet connection. Wireless networking or Wi-Fi is not the right way to go about achieving this.

This article is intended for those of you who do not have a wired network or stuctured network cabling installed in your home. If you are wired up, – well done -, this article is probably of little relevance to you. Thought I would forewarn you and save you some time

Most of us have a home broadband connection. Your service provider will have sent you a wireless/modem/firewall thingy, which will give you the pretty much all of the basic networking features you will need on your home network. All of these devices will allow provide you with the means to start a wired network. For the most part Tea London have observed that a significant proportion of home broadband users only use the wireless networking features, and ignore the wired networking completely.

Wireless netw0rking is a very convenient means of getting connected to the Internet, it also avoids a mess of wires being laid out everywhere. On paper, Wi-Fi network are fast enough to deliver high quality video and other media around the home, but it is rarely reliable in doing so. Speeds can drop significantly the futher you move away or the moment you have a wall separating you from your broadband router. To make matters worse your neighbours will likely also have a wireless broadband thingy installed as well. The closer you move towards theirs and the further away you move from you own, the more likely you could some very poor network performance. You may not notice this if you use your network solely for internet access. Internet access speeds are significantly lower than home networking speeds.

Wired networking is always better than wireless. It is capable of delivering very fast, reliable and resilient network speeds. The reliability being the key feature when streaming video and audio around your home. There is nothing worse than music or video that stutters, jams and stop/starts… if only briefly and occasionally. Wireless networking is susceptible to this sort of thing, all too readily and all too often.

If you have a number of network capable devices that wll remain in fixed locations (TV’s consoles, desktop computers, printers, etc) all the more reaon for you to wire them in, as you will only have to deal with getting them connected once and only once. Wireless neworking may require configuration if there are any changes to you security settings or if the wireless router is ever replaced or exchanged.

As a tip we would advise that your broadband router is installed where you have a concentration of fixed position, network capable devices. This way you can connect these devices easily with relatively short cabless.

As for the rest of the homes network devices, well it would come as no surprise that most of us have absolutely no desire to start pulling cables throughout the home. HomePlug devices allow you to get wired networking setup thoughout your home without having to lay long between rooms and between various equipment positions.

HomePlug devices are retro-fit solution, that use your home’s electrical cabling for wired networking.

You essentially plug these in a HomePlug into electrical outlets, which invariably will be quite close to networkable devices. As long as one HomePlug connected to your home broadband modem/router, you effectively have wired networking in your home providing full Internet access.

At an average cost of around £45 a unit, HomepPlugs are a lot less expensive than running and hiding network cabling everywhere. If you have more than one device that needs to be networked at the same location, simply add a network switch/hub to the HomePlug device, which will increase the number of devices you can connect at one particular point. You do not need install a HomePlug for each and every device you want to network, rather you install a HomePlug in the vicinity of the devices that need to be networked. A good 5 port ethernet switch only costs around £30, an 8 port switch about £50.

We are partial to Devolo for our homeplugs, but there are many other brands on the market, including those made by Zyxel and Netgear.

So what are you waiting for? Check out your AV devices, if you see a network port, get it wired in, and get the TV viewing your really want, your own choice, your own library.

Use your SmartTV 0

Posted on November 18, 2011 by Timothy Francis

Samsung is just one TV brand that has network capabilties

 

If you own a TV, games console or network connected blu-ray player, and you happen to have a PC or laptop floating around your home, chances are you have all the ingredients to watch videos stored stored on your PC’s and/or network storage. There is no need for any additional hardware – you do need not purchase an additional appliance or gadget to achieve this – this assuming you have a well designed home network in the first place.

For quite some time now your TV, games console  and some blu-ray players have had the ability to be networked – a network socket is on the back of most of these devices. We find, that surprisingly few people actually bother plugging these devices into their home network. The chances are your TV can deliver a whole host of features that you could very well be missing out on by not networking it.

Most of the premium brand TV’s have sported networking capabilties for several years now, if you have bought a decent TV in the last few years, chances are it has the ability to be networked – when connected to the internet a whole load of interesting possibilities and features come to the fore. Sony’s PS3 and the XBOX (old and new) have featured network ports, which provide whole host of features beyond online multi-player gaming.

Each brand or manufacturer have their own approach to the interface (menus or bits you see to control it) and also what features or services the device sports. Panasonic’s Media Server found in any networkable TV or Blu-Ray player, is dead boring to look at but very responsive and efficient. They then sport a different feature set formerly known as VieraTV, recently rebadged to SmartViera. SmartViera which provides you access to a screen full of widgets, these widgets provide you access to a host of online services such as YouTub, on-demand movie hire, EuropsortsSkype and even fully interactive services like Skype (Skype you ask?). The best looking, and by far best organised interface comes from Samsung. Samusng tout this feature as being Smart TV.

This article does not really focus do much on the ‘smart’ stuff and more on the Media Server and Media Client capabilities these devices support. This feature enables you to access your personal media (that is music, photos and video files) stored on your home network – this can be on your desktop computer, laptop or network storage.

The ‘magic’ that lets you do this is a service now touted as DLNA, but those of us who have been around longer know it is UPnP. UPnP is very easy to enable – I say enable, because Vista or Windows 7 supports UPnP media services natively. You need only go to ‘Network and Sharing’, go into the advanced properties and enable Media Streaming. Then add in the various file locations into its libraries; once your media is indexed it can be browsed and viewed on your smart TV.

For those who do not like Windows Media or use a Mac or Linux), Twonky is a great DLNA application. It is a licensed product – but most TV manufacturers will give you a free license with the TV purchase (see the documentation that came with your TV)  – Linn, Loewe and Panasonic are brands we are aware of that include Townky licensing.

For me these features and the advantages they bring is a significant milestone in the evolution of TV. It is something that still lacks a lot of polish and could/likely will be made a whole lot better in time. The advantages of which will only ever become apparent to you if you network them in the first place. TV viewing has evolved considerably over the past 5 years, have you moved with these changes as well?

 

Is coax cable still needed in a home? 0

Posted on February 05, 2010 by Timothy Francis
Coaxial cable with BNC termination

A bit of coax

For those of you who aren’t familiar with coax cable, this is normally the black, white or brown cables that are run from your TV aerial and/or satellite dish into your home, and can be find behind most TV sets and all set-top boxes. It essentially delivers broadcast TV signals to your TV, receiver or set-top box.

Here at TEA London we are often called upon to look at other installer’s cabling systems, post installation, to either upgrade, enhance or troubleshoot AV and IT systems. More often than not our client’s original supplier fell out of favour some time back, which although unfortunate for the client, we are at least given the opportunity to survey their past supplier’s structured cabling, and offer our impartial advice to address their new requirements or ailments. In a lot of the cases the original cabling system is adequate in addressing the then needs of the client, with little thought to how the client’s needs may change in the future, anything from a few months time to several years later.

We have found an alarming number of cases where custom audio visual installations have been installed without any coaxial cable at all to TV points, or too little cable has been run throughout a site, or worse, the rooms likely to accommodate a TV (if not immediately, but perhaps in the future) has no coaxial cable at all. This short blog will hopefully emphasise the importance of using coax cable in any modern and forward thinking AV installation.

Bad cable perceptions

Very recently a new client of ours informed me that he was advised 7 years ago, by his then Architect and specialist AV installer, that no coax cable was required to any of the 5 TV positions in his home. He was advised on using exclusively CAT5 cabling for the delivery of video throughout his home. The rationale of the AV installer was, ‘It is all digital now, you don’t need coax, because network cabling is digital’, the ‘specialists’ used buzzwords like digital, modern, future to convince the client that CAT5 cabling can exclusively address all of his AV requirements in his home.

The worst statement they made during their pitch is that coaxial cable would be obsolete in a matter of years. The client being a sensible, forward thinking man, followed their advice; why install something that will end up only being obsolete? Unfortunately this was incredibly bad advice, and has severely limited his AV options in his home.

If anyone tells you that coax cable is obsolete, or will be obsolete, or is not required, or is ‘an old cabling system’, ignore them, they clearly do not know what they are talking about – it will be a case of a little knowledge doing a lot of damage; whilst it is possible to get away with not running coaxial cable throughout a home, the alternatives of using CAT5/6/7 cable exclusively is:

  • It is considerably more expensive to apply Video distribution systems from a central hub utilising CAT5/6/7 cabling exclusively
  • it will actually reduce the features, functions and options each of your TV sets will have, by not allowing each set to tune into the airwaves independently
  • prevents you from taking advantage of a great number of electronic appliances that need TV signals delivered through coax
  • eliminates the opportunity for you to distribute infra-red and video signals through a coaxial cable network

The virtues of coax cable

So what are the benefits of coax cable? Well for one, it is inexpensive. When you look at the overall costs of installing a custom AV system in a modern home, coax cabling would be one of the least expensive materials used, costing less then 50 pence per metre. We always advise that at least two coaxial cables are run to each (potential) TV position, and we further advise that it should be CT100 equivalent or better coaxial cable.

CT100 cable is capable of handle many different signal types, and all TV signal types, i.e. satellite, terrestrial TV and cable TV. The two cables at each point will give you many options at at each set, such as the support of satellite and terrestrial TV, support for PVR devices or the ability to send a return signal back to your distribution point.

CT100 cable is rated to handling bandwidths in excess of 2GHz, where Category 5 cable can barely delivery 200MHz worth of headroom; even Category 7 cable rarely exceeds 1Ghz, which is half the headroom of a coax cable. Because of this high headroom, dense signals, or even multiple signals can be distributed through a single piece of cable.

By installing coax cable through your home, you will have the ability to not only take advantage of the video and audio distributed by your centralised AV distribution system, but you will be able to independently view and change channels using your TV’s own satellite, or terrestrial TV tuner. If you make use of media devices, like media centre PC’s or certain games consoles, these devices too can support a TV tuner – which almost always a pieces of coax cable to be plugged into the back of it in order for it to reliably receive a TV signal.

HD TV services are currently only available on satellite services, in the near future FreeView will begin HD TV broadcasts, and both broadcast systems require the delivery of their signals to a tuner utilising coax cable. This is the future, not the past; and shows that coax cable is here to stay for the foreseeable future, with no real end to its usefulness or purpose in a modern home in sight.

If you ever been advised or told that coax is obsolete or will become obsolete, then my advice would be for you to look for a different consultant immediately; they clearly do not understand the virtues of different cable types, and whilst they may seem to be forward thinking, one can argue if they really understand the virtues of other cable types as well, such as Category 5/6/7 cable, speaker cable, video cable or audio cable. It is always good to be forward thinking in terms of installing a modern cabling system, but never discount the value of so called ‘traditional’ or ‘old fashioned’ cabling. When obsolescence is used often in a sales pitch, let the buyer beware.

Timothy Francis

TEA London



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