Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A warning on wireless video senders

Our home personal video recorder setup started out simple enough. When we found out we had free cable in our last apartment, I convinced Farrah that the only way to take advantage of it was to buy a TiVo. So we used that for a while, but it was only hooked up to the television in the living room, meaning we couldn't watch recorded programs in the bedroom.

A friend of ours had bought a wireless video sender/receiver for her ReplayTV setup, but had decided she didn't need it, and sold it to us. Since the bedroom was a loft, we had to reach over the edge and point the remote control toward the TiVo downstairs to change channels, but now we were able to watch recordings in either room.

When we moved to Princeton, we gave up the TiVo. I bought a couple of TV tuners, threw them into my desktop, purchased a graphics card with video-out, and Snapstream BeyondTV software. After using this system for about two years, we're just barely on the verge of saving the money on subscription fees we would have paid TiVo, but I digress.

Since the computer was going to live in the office, we bought another wireless video receiver, and positioned the sender so that it would transmit signals to the bedroom and living room. The BeyondTV bundle I purchased came with the Snapstream Firefly RF remote control, meaning we could use it from anywhere in the house (although the signal gets weaker the further away from the office you travel).

It was a perfect plan. And then we got to know the neighbors. Not literally, we make it a point never to actually get to know our neighbors. We introduce ourselves if we run into them as we're moving in, and then proceed to ignore each other for the rest of the time that we live next to each other. Okay, maybe we don't make a point of this, but it seems to be how things tend to work out.

But the thing is, the wireless video sender/receiver we use operates on the same bandwidth as WiFi and Bluetooth devices. If you enable WiFi on a laptop, you get static on the TV screen. But the thing that causes the most interference on the TV? Microwave ovens.

We learned early on that we can't watch TV while we're reheating food. Luckily, we don't use the microwave that often. Our neighbors on the other hand, seem to use theirs. A lot.

Sometime between 7:00 and 10:00 in the evening, they tend to start cooking. And for four or five minutes at a time the TV will be unwatchable. Just when you think they're done, they'll start up again. My guess is either they have multiple frozen dinners, or they have to mix their food and stick it back in for a few more moments.

As time has gone on, I've realized that their kitchen is adjacent to our bedroom, and our walls aren't that thick. I can actually anticipate when we're about to lose our TV signal, because I can hear the sound of someone punching buttons on the microwave. And I've noticed that they don't just seem to use the microwave in the evening. Now that I'm paying attention, it appears they use it every morning before going off to school. I can only imagine they're making tea or instant coffee, or perhaps instant oatmeal. I'm hoping they're not cooking eggs.

There are more elegant solutions for transmitting video. You could set up an ethernet or WiFi home network and buy BeyondTV Link software for multiple computers, allowing you to record all of your programs on one computer, but watch them on any computer in the house. You could even get a Hauppauge Media MVP for about $100. Rather than placing a computer by each TV, you could put a $100 box by each TV and watch your recordings.

But we get our internet access through the university, and we:
  • can't up our own home network
  • have to pay an extra fee for every computer we add to the network
So we'll probably wait until we move this summer before reconfiguring our PVR solution. But it's one of the things I'm looking forward to most about moving out of this apartment.


cfaslave said...

I had the same problems with a wireless video sender I used to have. Microwave and Wifi always messed things up. As you mentioned, the MediaMVP with the BeyondTV skin made for a much better solution in one room. Another solution for us was to run a cable modulator from the Living Room TV to most of the other TV's in the house. Makes it nice if someone's in the kitchen but wants to keep up on a show in the living room.

Anonymous said...

Dude you should just shell out the money and revive your TIVO. All that tinkering sounds like a fire hazard.

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