Home Network Wireless Topology: Fixed

I think I’ve finally found a wireless network topology that works at my house.   It took a bit more equipment than I think should have been necessary, but in the end, it was a small price to pay for having my increasing array of network-dependent devices running smoothly.

Since my guess is that there are a few other suckers like me out there trying to get this to work, I’ll share my final solution.


Until recently, my home network was plagued by the following issues:

  • AppleTV in the living room would fail to stream, seamingly due to lost connections
  • Tivo HD in living room would periodically complain of being unable to connect to network
  • Nintendo Wii was shockingly slow connecting to network
  • Tivo HD in bedroom would be unable to play video from other room
  • AppleTV in bedroom would periodically fail to stream

Now, it’s not like the above happened all the time.  I never had a problem with an iPhone / iPad / Windows laptop / MacBook connecting to the network.  It was largely restricted to my video devices.  Unfortunately, it was infrequent enough that I could believe everything was configured correctly, but often enough that deep down, I felt like there were Gremlins in the building.

The Solution

The culprit turned out to be a circa-2008 Airport Extreme that I was using to drive my 802.11N network from the office.  It turns out, the older Airport Extreme can handle either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz frequencies, but not both simultaneously.  Since the iPhone / iPod uses 2.4Ghz, for compatibility you are effectively stuck at 2.4Ghz.   In addition, my office is literally at one corner of my house from the bedroom.  Not ideal, spatially, for the hub of my network.  The living room is more centrally located.

I began to suspect that the number of wireless devices that I owned had crossed some threshold, and the amount of interference and cross-talk was leading to unpredictable behavior.

As a solution, I purchased a newer Airport Extreme base station, with dual-band support.   However, instead of replacing the old base station, I added it to the living room as a network extension of the existing wireless network.  In order to do this, you need to do the following:

  • Open up the “Airport Utility” in the  “Utilities” folder in “Applications” (on Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard)
  • Click the “Manual Setup” button in the bottom left, to configure the base station
  • Select “Extend a wireless network” under the “Wireless” tab

It’s a little tricky, but there is no option to extend a network under the default set-up flow.

This provided three benefits:

  • All the devices in the living room are now connected via Ethernet to the Airport Extreme base station.  Significantly less chatter on the network.
  • The newer devices in the house are now seamlessly connecting via 5Ghz when they can to the Living Room base station
  • The bedroom devices are selecting the living room base station instead of the office due to signal strength.

Basically, there is a fairly constant 2.4GHz wireless “pipe” between the Living Room base station and the Office base station, and devices through the house are auto-selecting to the best connection.  The living room is aggregating the traffic over it’s ethernet switch and wireless endpoints, and then piping to my office network when necessary.

In the office, my iMac (which is my iTunes server) is connected via a Gigabit Switch to the Airport base station, the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, and the AT&T Uverse Router.

I’m assuming that the bridging implementation between the two Airport Extreme base stations is extremely efficient – more efficient than having a large number of device independently competing for access to the base station in the Office.

I’ve already noticed now that the new AppleTV 2 devices are extremely happy with this setup, and I get 720P HD streaming in both the living room and the bedroom from the iMac with only a few seconds of buffering.  Hopefully, this should prove a durable and performant topology for 2011.

DirecTV Tivo Declares “I’m Not Dead”… Yet

Saw this article yesterday announcing new features for DirecTivo boxes still in service (like mine).  For some reason, it reminded me of this Monty Python sketch where the guy tells the dead collector that he’s “not dead yet”.

Engadget: DirecTivo Owners to Get Update in Early ’08

The article details new features that DirecTV customers using Tivo can expect in early 2008:

  • Online scheduling (finally)
  • Deleted items folder
  • Overlap protection

Yes, all these features have been available for years on other Tivo boxes.  Yes, DirecTV is still not providing access to home media options, Tivo To Go, Amazon Unbox, or any of the other cool services from Tivo.  Yes, DirecTV apparently has no interest in actually pleasing its customers.

I’ve written before about the mistake DirecTV made to abandon Tivo effectively for the inferior NDS-based solution.   They took a fairly proprietary advantage that led to incredibly low customer churn rates, and turned it into a powerful driver to force some of their most valuable customers to move to their cable competitors.

In any case, with the announcement of the new, $299 Tivo HD, I can’t imagine why anyone who moves to HD would stick with DirecTV… except maybe if you have to have the sports package.  I have friends who are still working off the old HD DirecTivo.  Maybe they can ride that out until DirecTV gets serious again about Tivo support.

Gizmodo: Tivo Series 3 Lite: HD Tivo for under $300

As usual, 100% rumor, but worth passing on just because the quest for a reasonably priced, HD Tivo is worth the time and the text.

Very inexpensive case, likely due to the fact that this is a demo unit. Hard to believe these would be the final designs. Sounds like some enhancement to the CableCard support, including a multi-stream card slot (on-demand?)

This is a demo unit we have been provided so the actual units they put into retail may differ (they haven’t said one way or another) but for their sake, I certainly hope the actual units look better than this. I personally have a current S3 box at home and can say that this unit is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper looking and is lighter in overall weight (feels substantially so for some reason). Just my first impressions though&mdas;haven’t fired this unit up yet to see what other differences might be. The remote that came with it is also ‘cheap’—is lighter and not as good looking as the original shiny unit that comes with the current S3. As you can see the cable card slots have been moved up front and one slot supports the new m-card while the other supports only the traditional s-card.

From Gizmodo.

How to Add a Second Hard Drive to the Tivo Series 3

Finally… we are getting a little bit closer to HD DVR nirvana.

These instructions on Engadget show you how to hook up an external SATA drive to your Tivo Series 3 to upgrade the external storage. Apparently, the secret is holding down the “pause” button on your remote as the machine boots up, and then entering “62” at the right time. Too cool.

Since you can get eSATA storage now in very large sizes, this is a great way to expand your Tivo Series 3 beyond the normal 250GB (30 hours) of HD storage.

Ever wish you could use that friggin eSATA port TiVo taunts you with on the back of your Series3? If so your moment has finally arrived — and not a moment too soon for many a DVR-loving TV fans whose drives are filled to the brim with HD programming. Best of all: you don’t even have to crack open your box or nothin’. Ready to get it going on? Let’s upgrade that TiVo.

Too cool.

Apple TV: Lead Zeppelin or Disruptive Rocket?

There is a fun debate going on right now, in the weeks building up to the shipment of the Apple TV.

The question is, will the Apple TV be a disruptive engine that will radically reshape the economics of TV and Movies?  Or, will it fall in the category of gorgeous, but underpowered boxes that fail to find an audience (et tu, G4 Cube?)

Now, I am not going to spend time here on the following, over-contested, issues like:

  • The Apple TV has too little storage
  • The Apple TV only has HD outputs
  • The Apple TV doesn’t include DVR functionality
  • The Apple TV doesn’t offer any “new” features

Sorry, but these arguments aren’t compelling reasons why the Apple TV won’t work.  The Apple TV has plenty of storage for caching.  Composite outputs are on almost every TV sold in the past five years.  The Apple TV is not meant to be a DVR (see below).  As for “new” features, like the iPod did?Jason O’Grady has been writing great posts about Apple products for over a decade.  He recently penned this article:

The Apple Core: Apple TV is a Lead Zeppelin

He basically argues that the problem with Apple TV is that unlike music, Apple cannot ship DVD-ripping software to customers.  As a result, consumers will have no easy way to convert their existing content (DVDs) to digital format.

Personally, I think Jason hit the nail on the head – what will make or break the Apple TV will be the supply of content for it.  Right now, there are three sources that matter:

  • User created content (Photos, Movies, Playlists)
  • Converted digital content (DVR, DVD)
  • iTunes content

I am just not sure that (1) and (3) are enough to make this platform work for most users.  There will have to be a solution for (2).

However, unlike Jason, I am not sure that Apple has to ship this software themselves to make this successful.  Companies have had excellent success defeating lawsuits to sell “DVD Copy” software that breaks encryption.  As long as people use the software purely for their own use, the courts have not yet upheld that the DMCA restrictions will apply.  Converting a DVD to another format for personal use certainly seems like it would fall under fair use, but that has yet to be tested in court.

In the meantime, if people want DVD Ripping software, it’s possible that retailers will step into the void to offer promotions and bundles, just to compete with the Apple online store.  Imagine:

  • Option 1:  Apple.com selling the Apple TV for $299
  • Option 2: MacWarehouse selling the Apple TV bundled with the new “DVD2AppleTV” software for $329?  $309?  Maybe even $299?

We’ll see, but the market very well may step in here and fill the void.

Why?  Because the current distribution channels for video, cable and satellite, have priced themselves into a very expensive place.

Check out this article from this personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly.  It confirms a trend that I’ve been hearing from a lot of my 20-something and 30-something friends.

The logic goes like this:

  • Cable/Satellite in HD is expensive
  • Pay channels are expensive
  • I hate waiting to watch shows week-to-week anyway
  • I hate watching bad shows, trying to figure out which ones will actually be good.
  • I don’t have time for that much TV on a regular basis – I need to consume it in bursts when I travel, or when there are lulls in my life.

These are the trends that have driven NetFlix and Tivo, but now iTunes has provided another path.

You drop your cable subscription.  You take the over $1000/year you save and put it into:

  • Movies for big-budget blockbusters
  • Netflix for movies at home
  • iTunes for TV shows that your friends say you have to watch

I think Apple has a shot with (3) eventually subsuming (2) if they get the content.

My sister, for example, is 21, and a senior at college.  She just recently discovered The Office, and has been catching up on all the episodes.

She didn’t buy the DVDs – they don’t extend to the current season anyway.  She just bought them on iTunes.

We’ll see what happens with the Apple TV this year.  It’s possible this will be a dud.

But I know I want to buy one (actually four, if you’ve read my previous posts).  I’m interested in it as a solution to get rid of the DVDs that my 2-year-old son continues to maul.

However, I wonder if we aren’t underestimating the potential for iTunes -> TV as a disruptive channel. I personally spend over $1000 per year for content through DirecTV… is that really rational?  How many movies and TV shows could I buy through iTunes and on DVD for that?  Is it worth it?

If it turns out that there is an early adopter market that is ready to buy the Apple TV because they either have figured out DVD ripping, or they already purchase iTunes video content, then this just might work.  Once demand for the Apple TV is strong, other vendors will likely step in to make the DVD ripping problem go away.  Oh sure, the MPAA will fight it tooth-and-nail.  But it’s more likely they’ll be forced to put more content on iTunes, and price it more competitively.

The Apple TV Does Not Suck

Sorry, I had to add a quick post here about Apple TV.

I had lunch this weekend with some close friends, several of which have worked for Apple in the past. And I was surprised at how negative they were about the Apple TV.

First, check out this article on Seeking Alpha.  It looks like the Apple TV may be blowing away expectations already, with 100,000 sold.

Second, the Apple TV does not suck. Here’s why I’m excited about it:

  1. Tivo Home Media Option 2.0. It feels like Tivo stopped innovating with the home media option once it got into trouble with it’s future as a company and a product. Right out of the box, the Apple TV takes the best things that I love about the Tivo interface, and brings them to my iTunes content. Tivo handles my iTunes playlists & iPhoto libraries just fine, but Apple TV takes support to the next level with support for iTunes Store content and TV/Movies/Music Videos. High definition is a plus, although I’m still living in the stone age of 480p.
  2. Media Server Heavy, TV Interface Light. I think this is the right model. You want a big, brawny server with loads of storage, and a lightweight client with smart caching to receive content. I honestly see my house with an Apple TV on every set instead of a DVD player. I know the first TV that’s getting one is the one in the kitchen, where my young son is just destroying DVDs left and right. No need for that – he can just pick from a menu.
  3. Goodbye AVI. Hello, MP4. I’m very excited about MP4 files, ripped with the H.264 codec. High quality, smaller files. A 2 hour movie seems to fit in about 1 GB. My friend John was very caught up with the lack of AVI support, and maybe he knows something I don’t. But to me, this just sounds like complaints that the iPod doesn’t support WMA. My prediction – the lack of support of AVI is going to turn out to be bad for Microsoft, and not hurt Apple TV.

Now, there are plenty of features I’d like to see on the Apple TV. I’d like to see a concept of “libraries” of content, so I could make a library of kid-friendly content for my son. Maybe some sort of enforced filter or protection would be sufficient. I’m also worried about 802.11N scaling across my house, especially with multiple TVs going.

I’m also concerned with the grey areas around ripping DVDs, versus the clear availability and accessibility of ripping CDs. Normal people need to be able to convert their DVD libraries to digital content easily, the same way that iTunes lets people convert their CD libraries.

The wild card here is YouTube and other ventures. Depending on how much unique content avoids the MP4 format, the more inclusive Apple may have to be. With Google & Apple linked at the board level, however, don’t be surprised to see the Apple TV support YouTube at some point, in some form.

I still would love a way to automate the conversion of my recorded Tivo programming into iTunes content. What I really would like to see is a Tivo Series 3 where the hard drive in the box is really considered cache storage – the real file store would be my media server, and the Tivo would archive all recordings to the server when it wasn’t busy.

All sources would lead to the media server, my digital content receiver. And all paths out of the media server lead to devices like the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV.

But if that vision doesn’t work, maybe I need to rethink my $100/month DirecTV bill.  Maybe with basic programming, I could save $40/month and put that money into acquiring content in other ways.

Apple TV is definitely a 1.0, but it does not suck. 😛

My Tivo Ate My 24 Series Premiere

I hate to post anything that even resembles something bad about Tivo, but…

My DirecTivo ate my 24 series premiere.  Or more accurately, it failed to record the second 2-hour block last night.

I caught it part way through.  At 8:45pm, nothing was recording.  When I checked, I saw that for some reason, while my Season Pass was there for 24, the guide showed “no upcoming episodes”.  That was strange, since obviously one was playing on the screen.

I hit record, and ran to the bedroom to discover, thankfully, that my 2nd DirecTivo was recording the show correctly.


But how bad was this problem?  I had a problem like this 2 weeks ago, when the Scrubs premiere failed to record.  All the other shows recorded fine, but Scrubs was showing “no upcoming episodes” even though there clearly were shows in the guide.

I found this post on PVRWire which went into some detail about problems people were having.   I don’t buy the conspiracy theories about DirecTV trying to ruin people’s Tivo experience to get them to “upgrade” to the craptastic box that is the DirecTV-branded DVR.  But bugs and issues can and do happen, and it made me realize how much I depend on my Tivo “just working”.

I double-checked my To Do list for the week, and I discovered no less than four other shows that had the same problem.  I manually added them to the To Do list, but I’m worried.  I hope they fix this problem soon.

A spokesperson on CNET has saidit is aware of the problem and should have it fixed by this evening (last Friday).” However, at this point in time DirecTiVo users are continuing to report problems.

Tivo for Comcast HD is Here… It’s ALIVE!

Well, CES 2007 is underway, and the big news for me is the official demo of the Tivo software on existing Comcast Motorola HD DVRs…

From EngadgetHD:

They took their freaking time getting around to this, but at CES this week Comcast is showing off what they’d been promising to deliver for nearly two years: a cable DVR box with TiVo software on it. It’s good news for subscribers who know the pain of Comcast’s current DVR offerings, though as of right now we still have yet to learn how much a TiVo-enabled box will cost or when exactly it’ll be available.

If you click the picture above, you’ll get a small series of snapshots.

First thoughts… I may get the Tivo Series 3 after all. This looks like some weird hybrid – the Tivo software, with the Comcast/Motorola guide. I like the Tivo Guide a lot – it may not be perfect, but after 7 years of Tivo, I know it like the back of my hand.

Lara, if you are reading this, maybe you’ll be my guinea pig for trying this out? 🙂

Get a Tivo Series 3 for $510.98 AND Transfer Lifetime Service!

Two quick hot tips today on the Tivo front.

First, PVRBlog is reporting a deal at Dell that can get you a Tivo Series 3 for only $510.98.   This deal is so good it makes me wish I had HD already.

Second, PVRWire is reporting that you can, in fact, transfer your lifetime subscription from your DirecTivo to the Series 3.  This is important, since until now, people had thought the deal was only good if you transferred the lifetime subscription from a Series 2.

That makes a very sweet package for someone dying to get away from the DirecTivo morass and make a clean break with a Series 3 and Comcast HD.

Since I’m talking about Tivo, a couple other quick picks:

A merry Tivo to all, and to all a good night.

Tivo Series 3: Holiday Gadget Guide Review

There is a really good review of the Tivo Series 3 on the new Holiday Gadget Guide being hosted by Federated Media.  It’s written by the guy who writes for PVRBlog.

Tivo’s going HD: The Series 3

Very balanced review, but I think it highlights the dilemna that everyone has.  There seems to be no question that this is the best HD DVR out there, bar none.  But the price!  Ouch.

As a result, I’m going to add this to the same list that the Nintendo Wii is on.

It’s the “feel free to buy me one for the holidays” list.

Much appreciated!  Thank you in advance.

Rant: The Comcast HD DVR Is Simply, Terribly Awful

I usually don’t like to just post a pointer to another blog, but in this case, I have to.

John Battelle, clearly in an emotional moment, posted this evisceration of the Comcast HD DVR today versus his Tivo experience.

I had a chance to meet John briefly, as he came to speak at eBay about a year ago on the future of search & media. While we don’t agree on everything going on in the industry, it’s nice to see that John & I are two kindred spirits when it comes to love of the Tivo.

When you think about it, the DVR problem isn’t very complex anymore, really. How hard would it be to just copy the Tivo? However, interestingly, it seems like every DVR maker now tries to “improve” on the Tivo experience, and in the process, manages to display to the whole world how little they understand about the design nuances that make the Tivo experience wonderful.

I am in a very small audience of people who have actually deferred adopting HDTV until I can find a Tivo solution that makes sense for my household. We’re incredibly dependent on our two DirecTivos, and with DirecTV’s suicidal abandonment of Tivo, I’m left waiting for either the Tivo Series 3 to come down in price, or for the Comcast/Tivo solution to prove itself viable.

Anyway, read John’s rant. It brightened my whole day.

Tivo Series 3 to 1 TB Hack

Nice coverage on Engadget of a hack to take the new, high-definition Tivo Series 3 to 1 Terabyte (1 TB).

Engadget Article

This gets your Tivo Series 3 up to 131 hours of high definition programming, which is not bad, but doesn’t quite match the 170 hours I enjoy on my DirecTV Tivo today (I have an upgraded box).

I have to say, having over 100 hours of storage definitely changes the way you use your Tivo. When we had 30 hours, my wife and I would rarely record movies, since 30 hours covered just about 2 weeks of average recording. Dual tuners made it worse, because you could actually now catch competing shows.

With 170 hours, we’ve never run out of room, and anytime we want to catch a movie we missed in the theater, we record it off one of the cable movie channels.

We’re one of the last hold outs who have not upgraded to HD yet. We’ve largely been waiting on a solution to two large problems in this area:

1) A decent, HD Tivo solution with 100+ hours and that doesn’t break the bank.
2) A solution to the fact that a new TV & setup means replacing our cherry entertainment center (purchased in 2001).

As usual, I have more faith in technology to solve problem (1) than problem (2).

Tivo Series 3 is Here!

Those of you who are thinking about what to get me for my birthday need to look no further than here:

Hands-on with the TiVo Series3! (Engadget)

This box is dripping with high tech sex appeal.  Check out the new LED display on the front of the device:

Tivo Series 3 LED Display

Even the new Tivo remote control is sexier:

Tivo Series 3 Remote

Unfortunately, there are quite a few reasons to give pause before shelling out for this hot new item:

  • List price: $799 (ouch) + service (double ouch)
  • Service is $12.95/mo, $299 for 2 years.
  • Cable companies & standards still leave Tivo2Go, MultiRoom Viewing, external hard drive, and video on demand features unavailable.

Interesting deal, though, for those of you who are interested:

  • For $199 you can transfer the lifetime subscription from an existing Series 1 or Series 2 Tivo to your new Series 3.

Personally, I may have to wait to see what the “Tivo software on the Comcast boxes” looks like later this year to make a decision.

So, Tivo lovers, rejoice!  We can only dream of a world where Tivo wasn’t fighting the entire cable industry to bring us a great product.

Tivo Series 3: Unboxed

Just a quick post tonight, but I couldn’t go to sleep without sharing one of my favorite “new device” events: the infamous “play-by-play” of the opening of the soon-to-be-released device on a website.

Tivo Series 3: Unboxed (PVRBlog)

Of course, being the true geek, my truly favorite event is when someone rips apart the box piece-by-piece and actually walks through the innards of how it’s built and what is inside. 🙂

Maybe next week.