Look Ma, No Wires!
Part 2 of Rajiv Makhni's quest to make my home free of wires. The challenge was simple: without using any over-the-top expensive or complicated equipment, could I, in a reasonable amount of time, get rid of most of the ugly wires attached to audio and video equipment in my house?Updated: Mar 24, 2012 20:54 IST
This is a strange column to write. I wrote part one a few weeks back and while part two was more or less done, all kinds of ‘breaking news’ type of things kept taking precedence. The other motivation to write this is also out of fear as the number of people that have asked whether they will ever get to read part two has been quite astounding. Some have asked quite sweetly, most have not.
A quick recap is in order. This was a quest column. The challenge was simple: without using any over-the-top expensive or complicated equipment, could I, in a reasonable amount of time, get rid of most of the ugly wires attached to audio and video equipment in my house? Rules of engagement: the setup must be from scratch, should be easy to replicate and I should be able to do a start to finish in two hours. Could I achieve the ultimate tech nirvana and go completely wire-free? In 36 minutes, I had set up a Belkin router that was able to transmit into every dead space in my house and set up a Sonos Bridge and a Play:5 to transmit wireless music into my room. This is the story of the other 1 hour and 24 minutes.
I plugged in a 2TB Western Digital My Book Essential USB drive into the back of the Belkin Router USB. This has almost all my music (Hi-Def FLAC format) multi-indexed in folders. The drive showed up immediately as a network drive on all devices that could access the Belkin router. From a laptop I was able to point the Sonos controller software to this drive and to the the right
folder. Next I loaded the Sonos app on to four devices: an iPad 2, an iPhone 4, a Samsung Galaxy Note and a Huawei MediaPad Tablet. The next few minutes can be described in one word: heaven! With no computers or laptops, between the router, the WD drive and any one of these four devices in my hand, I was able to control music wirelessly from anywhere. Songs, genres, albums, cover art – all showed up perfectly. It took another few minutes to set up three more Sonos zones. From here I could chose which room should play which song or playlist, at what volume, chose an Internet radio station for one room and a music service for another. I could even set a playlist as an alarm by which the Sonos wakes you up by slowly increasing the volume. Total time taken: 55 minutes.
Now for the big one. I had to get a Blu-Ray player, a WD Live media streamer, A Tata Sky HD set-top box and a PlayStation 3 gaming console to attach and play with zero wires going into my TV. Zero! While it sounds like a formidable challenge and would have been an impossible dream a few years back, time and technology have changed. Enter the Belkin ScreenCast AV 4. This is a simple double box unit. The transmitter is about the size of my hand and the receiver much smaller. At the back of the transmitter are four HDMI-in ports. I placed the transmitter about 20 feet away from my TV and plugged in the above mentioned devices one by one into these four HDMI ports. The next step was plugging in the small receiver box (it is small enough to be tucked away behind your TV) into one HDMI-in port of my TV. I then powered both the boxes up – they immediately recognised each other and synced – and that was it. With a remote, I could choose which of the four devices I wanted to watch. I switched from a Blu-Ray movie to a PS3 Game to HD transmission on the Tata Sky set-top box – and the ScreenCast didn’t miss a beat. The picture quality was awesome and despite switching from wireless to wired HDMI, not one person in my family could tell me which was which. This was beautiful and I still had 35 minutes on the clock.
Wireless speakers have been around but have been more a miss than a hit. Terrible sound and serious sync loss have plagued this category. People using wireless back speakers in a home theatre suffer surround sound delays to a level that can turn every movie into a sadistic joke. And the sound itself is horrible enough to make grown men cry. My quest was to go wireless 5.1 in one room and not compromise on sound at all. For this, my weapon of choice was a light bulb. Yes, Violet speakers that screw into a light bulb socket. No wires need to be run anywhere. I screwed the speakers in place, put the included microphone in the specified area and the system did the rest. It figured out the speaker placement (my two rear speakers weren’t at the same angle and height), the topography of the room (while this room is a perfect rectangle, it has an off-axis door) as well as the furniture location. I added a Sonos into the input of the Violet box, hit the play button – and got near-perfect surround sound! While the subwoofer didn’t totally knock my socks off, the sound was nothing short of amazing. Total time off the clock?
1 hour 53 minutes.
The Chest Thumper
The last part was the chest thumper factor. To really show the potential of the all wireless installs, I wanted anybody walking into my house to be able to play music off their own phones or Tablets. This was simplicity in itself: an Apple TV device plugged into the input of the Sonos and a NAD VISO 1 dock. Anybody with an iOS device could immediately connect with the Apple TV and Airplay any song from their collection. For everyone else, the NAD with Bluetooth is a plug and play ticket to wireless heaven. The amount of bass that thing can pump out from a song on your phone is nothing short of a miracle.
And thus I was done. In 2 hours and 14 minutes. Yes, 14 minutes off the quest timeline but in those 134 minutes, I had literally transformed my home from a jungle of cables and wires to a state-of-the-art wireless home. Just a few years back, this would have taken an army of professionals, a truckload of money and oodles of anger management classes. Man, I love technology!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, March 25
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First Published: Mar 24, 2012 20:12 IST