Building A Network That Works With The MediaMVP

As I've mentioned in some of my earlier articles, you really don't need a very powerful media server if you using the MediaMVP media extender with MVPMC firmware. For example, I'm able to use my MediaMVP to watch MythTv movies, Xvid AVI's, and home movie's stored as MPEG's without putting much of a load on my media server, even though it has slow disks, a 1.6 Ghz processor, and 512 MB of RAM. Once I had everything working in my "sandbox environment" (that is, every component was two feet away from every other component), I really thought that the "hard part" was over. All I had to was (queue ominous music) set up the network. The short version of this story is that I haven't been able to set up a network that is fast enough for my needs yet. Continue reading for the gory details :) ### A Little Overview

You might be wondering why networking is such a big deal with the MediaMVP. You probably have a "Wireless G" network running in your home, and you probably never have any speed or bandwidth issues. The problem is that, while a Wireless G network is great for surfing the web, it's typically not good enough to stream MPEG movies. I'll explain why later in this article. The total amount that you do need is debatable (and somewhat configurable in MVPMC), but according to the Network page on the MythTv wiki, you should shoot for a 16 Mb/s connection for viewing standard definition (SD) videos. I've learned so far that, depending on what you're viewing, you can get by on less bandwidth, but this appears to be a good number if you want to watch a variety of different SD video formats. Basically, I need a way to "wire" the televisions in my living room and kitchen into my media server in my basement. The goal is to implement "networked television" so I can watch recorded television shows and home movies in a quick-and-easy fashion. ### Why Isn't Wireless Networking An Option?

Everyone with whom I've spoken on this topic has told me to avoid streaming MPEG's over a wireless network. I know this is only anecdotal evidence, but my friends who have tried this know a lot more about networking and hardware than I do. I'm happy to benefit for their wasted time and effort :) Also, the network in my home simply isn't fast enough. I ran a few tests of my network using Iperf, and found that I was only getting about 15Mb/s of bandwidth on my wireless network. This is actually pretty good, but probably less than what I need. Another problem with wireless networks is that they simply aren't reliable. One minute, you're copying a large file at blinding speeds and, poof, your laptop loses it's connection to the router. Why this happens is a mystery since I can't look "under the hood" of my router, so I just live with the occasional flakiness. I could buy a better router, but my friends who have tried the same told me that it only improves the situation slightly. No consumer-grade, wireless router seems to be immune from this problem. Finally, another big reason why I don't want to stream big, honkin' MPEG's over my wireless network is that almost every other computer in my network also uses it. I really don't want my wife's laptop and my MediaMVP to be fighting for bandwidth. I want them both to work quickly and easily. ### Wired Networking - The Ideal Solution?

The obvious choice for me at first was wired networking. It's relatively cheap (this blog is about technology and frugality), it's very fast, and it seemed like it would be pretty easy to install. I needed to wire two rooms on my main floor into my router in the basement. All I had to do (my favorite example of "famous last words") was drop some CAT-5e (plain-old networking) cable from my main floor into the basement from two separate rooms. A real no-brainer, right? Well, I guess it depends. I thought that installation would be easy, but three and a half hours later, after making no progress whatsoever, I took a step back to re-evaluate my options. Here's what I came up with: 1. I really hate it when I spend a lot of time on a project and get nothing back in return. I'm not the busiest guy in the world, but I'm far too busy to be playing with a hobby for that long for no good reason. I really felt like I wasn't valuing my free time, which is my most valuable asset. 2. One of the rooms simply couldn't be wired for ethernet. There was no non-evasive way for me to wire the room for ethernet. 3. The other room could be wired for ethernet, but it would involve more time and effort than I had in the short term, and it would require me to drill another hole in the wall. I prefer using existing holes for this sort of thing, not drilling new ones.

Since frugality is about your use of time and money, I decided to exchange more of the latter for the former. It was time to go back to the drawing board. ### Powerline Networking - The Best Of Both Worlds?

One of my friends who also happened to own a MediaMVP, also had trouble running ethernet cable in his house. He therefore decided to try out a powerline networking kit. The kit includes two devices: one that plugs into your MediaMVP using CAT-5e, and one that plugs into your router or switch. The two devices "talk" to each other (i.e. exchange networking packets) over the power network in your house. This method of networking seemed really strange to me at first, but my friend said that it worked really well for him. I therefore hopped on over to Newegg to get a second opinion, and, lo and behold, there seemed to be universal praise for these devices. I found multiple people on Newegg who used the devices to stream movies, and they all said that this form of networking was more than fast enough for their needs. I thought I had found the perfect solution. I therefore ordered a ZyXEL PL-100KIT powerline networking kit from Newegg. It's maximum stated bandwidth is 85 Mb/s, which is over 5 times more than what I required. Unfortunately, once I set up the networking kit and plugged everything in, I was only able to get between 4 and 6 Mb/s of bandwidth according to Iperf and MVPMC. Not only was this around 20% of my bandwidth goal, it was around 7% of the stated maximum. Now, believe it or not, I was actually able to view some content through my MediaMVP, even with the lackluster bandwidth. I had the best results with MythTv videos that had been recorded with my Hauppauge PVR-150. Those rarely fell out of sync, and when they did, you just needed to fast-forward a couple of seconds. Medium-quality Xvid AVI's were watchable, but only after setting VLC's video transcoding setting to "VCD", which is barely watchable in my opinion. My home videos that I converted to MPEG's are simply unwatchable. I figured that something had to be wrong with my particular setup, since so many other people had stated that this model worked well with streaming video. I therefore tried tweaking my setup in the following ways: - Powerline Adapter Tweaks

1.  Of course, I made sure that none of my powerline networking
    adapters were plugged into a powerstrip or surge protector.
2.  I made sure that nothing else was plugged into the same outlet
    as my powerline adaptors.
3.  I tried to plug the adapters into sockets that were in close
    proximity, even though they had to be on different floors.

> -   Some people recommend plugging the adapters into outlets on the
>     same circuit, but I don't believe that I have any circuits that
>     span floors.

Unfortunately, none of these changes seemed to make a difference. As of today, my MediaMVP works wonderfully with MVPMC, but I can barely use it due to my inadequate network. ### Conclusion

When I started this project, I viewed it as a frugal way (again, both in time and money) to enable myself to watch recorded movies and television shows that are stored on my media server. In the end, I ended up doubling my financial budget and tripling my time budget for this project. Based on all of my experiences so far, I can make the following recommendations: - This Project Requires A Decent Amount Of Computer Knowledge - I'm a systems administrator for a living, and I have a good number of friends who have done stuff like this before. These resources really save me a lot of time on these types of projects. If you don't have these same resources, then this type of project will probably take you much more time and cause you much more aggravation.

I still see the MediaMVP as being a great device, and look forward to the day where it "just works". For example, I'm already growing accustomed to watching my favorite daytime TV shows while I work in the kitchen at night, and the rest of my family really loves it too. Therefore, I'm going to continue trying to make things work with a powerline network, but I'm going to try a different brand. I've heard good things about the Netgear XE103G and Linksys PLK200 kits. I'll probably end up trying the Linksys kit for the following reasons: - It has a higher theoretical maximum bandwidth (200 Mb/s compared to 85 Mb/s) - It's basically the same price as the Netgear XE103G - It received great customer reviews on both Amazon and Newegg

good review from CNET

I hope to get this part of my system working soon, and will share the results when I'm done.

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