Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Saturday, 25 February 2006

I read about the Slingbox Media Player last year sometime when they came out. It sounded like a good idea. Plug it in-line between your device(s) and your TV, plug it in to your broadband router and stream your TV (even change channels and whatnot) to your laptop wherever you happened to be. If TiVo is timeshifting, then Slingbox is place-shifting. Knowing the huge disparity in upload and download speeds in residential broadband of any flavor, I didn't think it would work very well, or you'd end up with a postage-stamp sized video window. I was excited about the proposition, but took it with a big grain of salt that it was a good idea who's time hadn't quite yet come.

Over the months, I tried to find out if the Slingbox actually worked as promised. None of my usual sources had any information on it. Even Rich 'The Toy Boy' didn't have any first-hand knowledge about it, which was a bit of a shocker. A couple months later I revisited it and asked him if he had heard anything since last time about it, and this time he said yes, he knew a couple people who have used it and said it actually DOES work as advertised (unlike the Prismiq Media Player which SORT OF works as advertised, if you really really really wanna mess with it for a long time and learn/figure out more than you ever wanted to know about video codecs, transcoding and network protocols)

This set the wheels in motion in my head. My parents have 'old-style' non-digital cable at home, still. No cable-box. The cable comes out of the wall and into the TV and the TV's tuner does your channel changing for you, old-school style. They also have a cable modem (which is still in my name for some reason, even though I haven't lived there for nearly eight years) so I thought it would be a perfect match. Install the Slingbox at their house, jack the cable into it and then I could stream CBC, CTV and Rogers Sports Net to my laptop and catch ALL the Canucks games in the comfort of my own home. Or hotel room. Or anywhere, really.

My plan was to pick one up in Miami next time I was up there with some disposable income and bring it back to Cayman, play with it, get it working, and then take it home next September when I was home for Ork's wedding. It wouldn't do me any good for the rest of this season of hockey, but it would be in place for next season. That plan got moved up a bit when I had to rush home this week unexpectedly. It definately wasn't a social visit or a vacation (even though I got docked vacation days for it) but I thought I should get it installed, and try to put a LITTLE of a positive spin on the trip, and that would allow me to catch the second half of the hockey season.

I then found out that they don't sell Slingbox Media Players in Canada yet. Hurdle #1. Not an insurmountable hurdle. I wouldn't have time to jump in a taxi and go to Circuit City and pick one up, so I did the next best thing and called a friend in Miami and asked if they had time to pick one up for me and meet me at the airport as I was passing through. They said sure no problem, and that hurdle was out of the way.

The Slingbox itself was smaller than I thought. No biggie, it just looked bigger in the photos. Before I installed it, I had to to a little networking work first. Back in the day when I had Rogers Wave broadband installed, no one had firewalls, there weren't that many viruses around and everyone plugged their computers directly in to the modem and didn't think anything of it. My parents' machine was still plugged in like that, with only Zone Alarm and some antivirus software protecting it. First order of business was to install one of my spare Linksys WRT54Gs with Sveasoft's Alchemy firmware on it (Im thinking of switching it to DD-WRT for their VPN server but that'll have to wait til September). Once that was installed and configured, I then plugged the slingbox in to the wall, into the router, and into the tv cable (remember from the last post that I had a direct line for the cable modem and one for tv) I downloaded the latest Slingbox Media software and installed it on my laptop, and a few configuring minutes later, I had a signal showing and it was streaming over the LAN at 1.4mbps.

Something wasn't right, though. I had a REALLY fuzzy CBC picture on the screen, and it was on channel 2, rather than channel 3. Almost like the cable wasn't plugged in. I went down and checked the connections, and everything was working. I gave up for the night and figured I would tuck back into it the next day.

The next day I went sleuthing. First thing I noticed was that there were some new cables outside at the demarc box. Someone had stapled/nailed two coax cables to the side of the house, which then ran all the way around the house under the eaves, around the back, and then stapled back down the walls, rain loops stapled down and then into two holes in the side of the house: one near my parents bedroom and one UNDER the kitchen. What the hell??? We had it set up PERFECT when the Rogers Cable guy installed all that nice, shiny new cable! I waited for my dad to come home and asked him about it. He said a few years ago, when Shaw bought out Rogers Cable, they came around and inspected the demarc and saw an "illegal" splitter in there. My dad told them to go ahead and fix it, so they just disconnected all the wiring that the Rogers guy did, and stapled all that ugly cable right to the outside of the house! The cable outlet in my old room that I had planned to plug the Slingbox into was disconnected, as was my entire plan for the Slingbox. MotherFUCKERS! Again, it wasn't an insurmountable hurdle, it just required some creative wiring.

My first thought was to split the cable downstairs where it comes into the house, run a cable across the room along the baseboard, drill a hole (sigh) and pass the cable through it. Or I could break the holiest of holies, thedirect line to the cable modem. I opted to try that first, since it was easier and cheaper. I did a speed test and a line quality test on the modem, then disconnected it, put the splitter in and plugged it back in. The cable modem synced up, and the speeds were comparable to what we were getting before, so I left it like that for now. I went over to my laptop and tried the Slingbox again and it worked. Flawlessly.

I told my dad what I did, so that if Shaw has some way of knowing that we have "another" cable connection on the circuit, to go ahead and say yes, and I'll pay the extra for it. IF that happens, though. Im going to ask them to send the technician out and put the splitter back in at the demarc to re-connect the other outlet in my old room so that the cable modem can go back to being a dedicated line.

Next step will be to try the slingbox via the wan link. Their upstream speed is only 512kbps, and the lan feeds I experimented with were averaging about 800kbps. I can always step it down to 24fps or a lower resolution if it's not high enough quality. The Slingbox has that metering built-in to it though, so I'll have to try it both ways. The other thing I warned my parents about was that when I was using it and sucking up all their outgoing bandwidth, that I would effectively be denying them service as the link would be saturated. They didn't seem to worried about it, and if it turns out to not work as well as I like, I can always upgrade their cable modem speed to something higher and pay the difference. It'll still be hella cheaper than buying a whole new satelite system down in Cayman.

 

Saturday, 25 February 2006 10:30:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [1] | Tech | Gadgets | Wireless | WWW | Travel#
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