Sunday, March 09, 2008

Home Theater and PLC Adaptor

Previously, half a year ago, I've built a home theater based on top of FreeVO MythTV. Few shell scripts does the rest: movies pre-buffering from the storage, managing music etc. Hardware is relatively small and very silent while works. Power consumption takes 50W at its best, but usually 45W. I have two machines like this, another just has twice more memory and twice better CPU (read: twice bigger power consumption). Here how the thing looks in all its glory (cover removed, as usual):

Now, the thing is to actually connect it to the network. First what comes to mind: WiFi on cheap PCMCIA card (I've got two of them free as a gift). After spending hours evenings to figure out why NDISWrapper turns the box from "not connected by WiFi mode" to "brick mode" issuing friendly Linux kernel panic, finally I've got a connection. My Linux installation was bit screwed up by several user-friendly kernel recompilations (thanks to its nice monolithic design) and some libraries updates, thus packages turned to be inconsistent. Well, at least it works... At all its best it was slow, bad and chunked, since WiFi router quite far from the TV installation.

I've decided to make it better and drop WiFi idea. But along with that, I hate cables to be visible across my apartments. So decision was made to go with PLC. Preference was given to Panasonic BL-PA100. This is a kit of two devices, where Panasonic already has prepared a starter kit (BL-PA100KT) for ease of installation. The kit includes two preconfigured BL-PA100 adaptors - one is used as the Master and the other as a Terminal adaptor.

The kit allows the average person to easily establish a secure network without using a PC. Simply plug in the Master adaptor into a power outlet and connect a broadband router/modem to the adaptor. Then plug in the Terminal adaptor to a wall outlet in another room where you want to access the network. PC and other network "clients," such as Panasonic IP network camera, can be connected to the Ethernet port of the Terminal adaptor.

Adding another Terminal adaptor is also simple. Plug a second Terminal adaptor, (sold individually), to the same power outlet as the Master and press the "Setup" buttons on both units simultaneously to register the Terminal. Once registered, the adaptor can be placed in power outlets anywhere in the house. Also, the clients can be connected to any Terminal adaptors in the house to communicate on the network. A total of 15 Terminal adaptors can be connected to the system.

Despite of the fact that HD-PLC Ethernet Adapter has a 190Mbps bandwidth, which is really enough to accommodate my needs, adding new Terminal adaptor will "eat" bandwidth too. The more adaptors you have, the less bandwidth you get. So the final solution of my LAN upgrade was adding more WiFi access points over apartments by combining PLC adaptor in Terminal mode with a WiFi router without NAT that works just like an access point. For the WiFi router I use La Fonera device, which is hackable by re-flashing it with OpenWRT firmware. Installing OpenWRT is simple and configuration is just trivial. La Fonera router is very small, can fit in your palm easily. Here is a picture of how two devices looks together:

So now my home theater works great and fast and also I have one more access point with 80-97% of signal available between near rooms.

More information about Panasonic BL-PA100 PLC Adaptor you can find here:

If you want La Fonera for ridiculous price :-) get it here:

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