unfinished blogs – no. 8 – A home communication, entertainment and network in Malaysia setup

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.

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December 5th, 2012

Nowdays we have all these gadgets, but many connect with each other. I am going to suggest one way you can set up your home communication, entertainment and network.

Home cinema magazines write that home cinema is not a DIY project, as there are so many complexities, so much different equipment, and a lot of expertise is necessary to choose the right components for your environment and to meet your aims, desires and budget. And then the equipment must be set up and tuned for the best performance.  So they suggest working with a home cinema shop to do this.  They must visit your home at least twice, once to evaluate the environment and see what equipment you already have, and once more to install and tune the equipment. Just reading equipment reviews and buying the recommended components, or alternatively, buying everything from one manufacturere will not, they write, produce the best results.

25 years ago we were living in Tokyo, and I set up my own home cinema surround sound system, and it worked really well. This is not to say a professional could not have done better, but I was very happy with it. Watching films the sound was fabulous. We lived in a tiny flat, and I had to be careful with the volume if the neighbours were around, but still, I was very satisfied.

From memory the components were:

  • a large Pioneer TV
  • a Pioneer 5.1 AV amplifier
  • Pioneer surround speaker set and subwoofer
  • VHS stereo recorder
  • CD player
  • Sony 8mm video camera
  • Sony 6″ TV and 8mm video tape recorder (used for editing videos)

Later, when we livied in Sydney I consulted a home cinema shop, and they did indeed provide good service, and I had a home cinema in the living room, and several zones around the house and outside to which I could provide music.  I had switched to a Yamaha AV Receiver, which was very good, still had the Pioneer speakers, and can’t remember the brands of the other components.

After this I got tired of dragging equipment around the world, and for the intervening years have had a very basic setup where we have lived.

After these experiences I do tend to think that working with a specialist home cinema shop is preferable, so I will largely assume that this has been done.

Having said which, there seems to be no shop that will cater for this in Penang- hi-fi or home cinema shops are not usually staffed by helpful people, and you want to integrate far more equipment, anyway. If you go to one of the bigger stores, the salesman will come out of the vaccuum cleaner department, tell you the price of whatever you ask, not be able to answer any other questions, and then ask if you want to buy. Then he’ll go back to the vaccuum cleaners.  They used to have, but seem to have no longer, listening rooms set up in SenQ at Gurney Plaza, and at Harvey Norman in Queensbay Mall, where you could switch between different equipment and listen and evaluate it. Now these rooms are just displays of whatever they are selling.  Any hi-fi stores I have found have a very limited range of products they sell, and they may not sell what is ideal for you.

Kuala Lumpur may be different, but they will hardly visit Penang to look at your home, in order to make recommendations.

So, I will make some references to home cinema, but it being so complex, leave it at that. And I will make some assumptions:

  • There are one or  two of you
  • You have a three or four bedroom apartment on one level – I don’t, I live in a two level house, but most people in Penang are in apartments
  • You don’t want to hack your walls to put in Ethernet wiring – because it’s messy, or you’re renting
  • Wi-Fi is convenient, but not good for one’s health, so you use alternatives, and when you do need Wi-Fi  turn it on only when using it
  • You want to keep costs down
  • You want to minimise the time you spend supporting the equipment.
  • If the Internet goes down you want some kind of backup
  • You’re not using mainly Apple products – I object to their exploitation of workers in China, insistence on using wireless instead of having options to use wired, lack of options to add additional storage such as SD cards on their iPads etc., and their much higher price.
  • You already have much of what you need

You have or will probably acquire:

Good warranties

  • Digital Camera
  • Video camera
  • Phone
  • Mobile
  • router
  • switch
  • network
  • powerline network – devolo
  • Internet provider
  • NAS
  • printer/scanner/fax
  • UPS
  • TV
  • Media Server
  • DVD or Blueray player
  • speakers

You will want to think about where to place your IT gear to minimise wiring snaking around the apartment, but to be convenient for how you use it.

It is hard to know where to start, so let’s start with the Internet.  The signal comes into your modem / router. On this you will have at least one Ethernet port.

It may have WiFi, too. If you are lucky you will have an on-off switch on the router for the Wi-Fi. Otherwise you will have to turn it on and off from a web browser, which is not very convenient.

If there is only one Ethernet port, you should connect this up to a switch. These come in configurations from 4 port up – an 8 port costs little more than a 4 port, so this should be the minimum size. Also, ensure the speeds include 10/100/1000 mbps. A switch enables you multiply the number of devices you can attach, and very efficiently manages the network so very little speed is lost to any of the devices.

As the Wi-Fi is not healthy, it is better to connect your networked devices by wire. If they are close to the switch you can use an ethernet cable from the switch to your device – you may have a NAS server near it to store your files, photos, music and videos on, for example. It might be convenient to place your printer nearby, too.

Unless you want to hack your walls and install ethernet cable, or attach conduit with ethernet cable within to your walls, or can run wires easily through your floors or ceiling, or under carpet or mats, although not recommended, then quite a good alternative is to use powerline networking.  You can attach a special plug to a power point near your switch, and run an ethernet cable from your switch to the plug.  Then you attach other such plugs where you want the network, and run a cable from the plugs to the devices. You are using your electrical wiring for your network.

If you wish the devices near the router to work if there is a power outage, and be protected from electrical surges, then purchase a UPS, and Uninteruptable Power Supply.  It will not run for so long unless you buy a big one, but it will give you time to shut down your equipment gracefully, rahter than have it crash.  It can also be set up to shut down equipment automatically if the power goes out.

So, near where your router is located is a switch, and perhaps a powerline setup, printer, UPS, and NAS. The advantages of a NAS must be mentioned before we move on.

If you also want a fax and a scanner, consider a combination fax and a scanner and printer.

The NAS (Network Attached Storage) will allow you to back up anything on your PC’s over the network, and to store music, photos, and video etc. to play on your TV or home entertainment system. You will want all equipment releated to home entertainment to be DNLA certified.

Your TV can be connected directly to a network cable, or via composite cables or HDMI cable to a Digital Media Adapter, which is connected to the network.  It is best if the DMA is DNLA certified, as it will work with other useful equipment.

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